What would it take to raise Arizona teachers' salaries? - AZEdNews
Sections    Thursday March 30th, 2023

What would it take to raise Arizona teachers’ salaries?

A Teacher Works With Students At Sierra Linda High School On A Project. Photo Courtesy Brooke Razo/ Arizona School Boards Association

As legislators work on the budget, many in the #RedForEd movement are asking what would it take to raise Arizona teachers’ salaries by 20 percent.

“Right now, probably the best guess at this point in time is between $700 to $750 million,” said Dr. Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials. “But that number can be looked at as we move down the road, but it’s going to be a very expensive proposition to make that kind of an increase to teachers.”

Walk-ins are planned Wednesday morning before school starts on campuses across the state, as teachers seek community and student support for their efforts to encourage lawmakers to increase per-pupil funding and teacher pay. The goal is to show community support for more education funding in a way that does not disrupt the school day or impact students’ learning.

Podcast by Brooke Razo/ASBA: What would it take to increase Arizona teachers’ salaries?

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Where Arizona ranks now

Arizona elementary school teachers’ pay ranks 50th in the nation at $42,474 and Arizona high school teachers’ pay ranks 49th in the nation at $47,890, according to a report from the Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy based on 2016 government data. The national median salary for elementary school teachers was $55,800 in 2017.

More recent data released last week by Expect More Arizona and ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy shows that median pay for elementary school teachers rose nearly 5 percent from 2016 to 2017 to $44,490, but the state’s ranking moved up just one step in national rankings from 50th to 49th, with teacher salaries remaining much lower than in neighboring states. The national median salary for elementary school teachers was $57,160 in 2017.

What would it take to raise Arizona teachers' salaries? 2017azteachersa_29495497

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“While we have a long way to go to close the gap to the national median, we should celebrate every increase that moves us toward our goal,” said Christine M. Thompson, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona. “Arizona’s educators work hard and they deserve our support and respect. We need to look at all of the variables that impact teacher recruitment and retention – from teacher pay to working conditions.”

Teacher salary rankings can be drawn from different data sources and some are weighted for inflation or cost of living while others are not, said Dr. Anabel Aportela, director of research with Arizona Association of School Business Officials and Arizona School Boards Association.

“Instead of most accurate, I think it’s better to ask which is most appropriate for your particular use,” Aportela said. “One thing to keep in mind is the timing of the report. Many reports have a lag. We’re in 2018, you may see reports where the latest is 2016 or 2017 data so that’s something to keep in mind. It’s also important to look to see if it’s a survey of teachers or if it’s information about all teachers, because depending on the quality of the survey will be the quality of your data.”

What’s being discussed at the legislature

The budget is always a fluid situation this time of year, said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association.

“The Governor in his initial budget proposed three things that affect teacher pay,” Kotterman said. “One of course, would be the second part of a two percent raise, a 1.06 percent raise, which totals about $34 million. Then incorporating last years portion of that raise along with this year’s portion into the base level (per-pupil funding) would give it a bit of an inflation adjustment as well.”

“Then finally, there’s this $100 million increase to the district additional assistance formula, which is not specifically earmarked for teacher pay, but given the way that the finance formula’s been structured over the recession to break down some of those barriers between funding pots, some of that money could also be directed to teachers’ salaries.”

“Now, of course, as we get into the #RedForEd movement and all that, we’ve seen increased pressure and you’re guess is as good as mine as to what the legislature might also cook up to put some additional money, or the governor’s office might push for to put some additional money in,” Kotterman said. “But as always, the dollars  at the state level don’t always translate to uniformity across the districts.”

“The awakening among teachers has really caught the legislature by surprise,” Kotterman said.

“Going into this they thought the governor’s plan to put $100 million in district additional assistance this year and then $75 million and then $64 million to restore that district additional assistance to the level it was before the cuts in the recession era and even later than that,  they thought that that was a big lift,” Kotterman said. “That they were going to have to do a ton of work to get that done and it was going to make a big dent and it still would.”

“But now you have the #RedForEd movement out there and they’re scrambling to find resources and put together a plan to make sure that they can present something that shows their constituents that they’re trying to do something meaningful,” Kotterman said.

What districts must consider

That district additional assistance can be used to replace worn, outdated textbooks or to repair or replace buses, Essigs said.

“So what a district has to spend on teachers’ salaries out of that $100 million will depend on the priorities that are necessary for some of the capital funding,” Essigs said.

There’s other things that districts consider when looking at teacher salaries and one of those are benefits including health insurance, Essigs said.

“If a portion of health insurance is paid for by the district, it goes up,” Essigs said. “The Arizona State Retirement System, we know that their contribution rate is going up by three-tenths of a percent. A decline in student enrollment is a very important factor in how much money a district has.”

“Every district that I talk to, salary negotiations are the biggest priority in terms of where they want to put their money, but there are a lot of other things as we’ve talked about – textbooks, buses, benefits – that also have to be paid for by the district,” Essigs said.

Another consideration is class size, Aportela said.

“You can either pay more teachers or pay fewer teachers more, that’s the trade off,” Aportela said. “It’s going to be up to individual districts to decide are we going to spend more additional  money on existing numbers of teachers and increase pay or are we going to reduce class size by hiring more teachers, but that means that there’s less money for salary increases and that’s a tough balancing act and its one that every district has to make.”

The amounts we’re talking about are a lot of money, “but to put it in perspective, we have 1.1 million students in Arizona so if you think about $65 million, we’re talking about $65 per student, so yes these are large amounts of money, but when you’re serving $1.1 million students they don’t go very far,” Aportela said.