Parents know how important good teachers are to students’ learning thanks to the distance learning caused by COVID-19, so where does Arizona stand on efforts to increase teachers’ pay?
Here’s an update on the lawsuits against Prop. 208 and how Prop. 301 and Gov. Ducey’s 20 percent by 2020 plan have made a significant difference.
Two lawsuits were filed earlier this week to block Prop. 208, the Invest in Education Act, from going into effect in January 2021, but no court hearing dates have been set yet.
Arizona voters approved Prop. 208 in the Nov. 3 general election by 51.7 percent, and it adds a 3.5 percent income tax surcharge on taxable annual individual income above $250,000 and $500,000 per couple.
Half the funds raised through Prop. 208 would be distributed to public schools to use to hire teachers and classroom support such as librarians, nurses, academic coaches, counselors and could also provide for raises. A quarter of the funds can be used for support services staff such as classroom aides, food service, transportation and security personnel. Twelve percent can be used for grants to career and technical education programs, 10 percent for mentoring to recruit and retain new classroom teachers and 3 percent goes to the Arizona Teachers Academy for tuition grants for students pursuing teacher training.
A lawsuit filed Monday by the Goldwater Institute and signed onto by House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann says the Arizona Constitution allows only the state legislature to levy a new tax with a 2/3 vote and is opposed to a provision that exempts the funds raised from the constitutional cap on how much schools can spend.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday by My Sister’s Closet founder Ann Siner and retired Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Buttrick also says voters have no constitutional authority to levy a tax and direct how the cash must be spent, according to a Capitol Media Services article.
The Goldwater Institute and My Sister’s Closet filed separate lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 208 – which raises taxes on high earners in Arizona to fund education. https://t.co/Ee8RPK6nwx— KTAR News 92.3 (@KTAR923) December 1, 2020
The lawsuits’ claims starkly contrast with many previously voter-approved and enacted levies including Gov. Doug Ducey’s Prop. 123, Prop. 301, taxes on tobacco that fund health care and recently enacted Prop. 207 that legalizes recreational use of marijuana and imposes a new tax on sales.
New Lawsuit filed on Prop 208, fronted by several top Republican lawmakers, challenging the initiative’s constitutionality. pic.twitter.com/VnUX7s0Cc7— Steve Irvin (@Steve_Irvin) November 30, 2020
Attorney Roopali Desai who represents the groups who put forward Prop. 208, including Arizona Education Association, said, “the Arizona Constitution makes the people co-equal with the legislature when creating law,” and bars lawmakers from repealing voter-enacted laws, noting lawmakers can only make changes that further the purpose of the voter-approved measure with a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate, in an Capitol News Service article.
Prop. 208 is law and goes into effect in tax year 2021, said Dr. Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials.
“Unless they win the lawsuits, the law goes forward,” Dr. Essigs said.
“The next step is the Department of Revenue is going to have to file and adopt some rules about how will the money be collected,” Dr. Essigs said.
The earliest that money probably would be available for public school districts and charter schools would be the spring of 2022 after people file their 2021 tax returns, Dr. Essigs said.
“How that will fit into school districts’ budgets will still have to be determined,” Dr. Essigs said. “Then the question is how long will it take for the money to be distributed to school districts and charters once it becomes available.”
Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas thanked “Arizona voters who have shown once again their support for educators and public education by passing Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act.”
“Districts need the new, voter-protected resources created by Prop 208 now in order to address shortages in teachers and other critical student support staff,” Thomas said.
“We are grateful for our members, public education supporters, and coalition partners who donated their time, money, and energy toward securing this victory,” Thomas said.
“We won together and now it’s time for all Arizonans to work together again to ensure a quality public education for every child,” Thomas said.
Renewal of Prop. 301 was critical
Gov. Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1390, sponsored by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix (District 28), on March 26, 2018 that was approved by the Arizona Legislature on Thursday to extend Prop. 301 until 2041, protecting a critical revenue stream that would have expired in 2021 that public schools rely on when creating their budgets.
Prop. 301 requires that 20 percent of the sales tax revenues go to teachers’ base pay, 40 percent to teachers’ performance pay and 40 percent goes to a site fund that can be used for classroom needs, maintenance and operation. Prop. 301 also requires the legislature to increase per student base level funding annually by the rate of inflation for 2 percent, whichever is less.
In 2016, district and charter schools received about $364.1 million of the $643.8 million generated by Prop. 301, a six-tenths of a cent sales tax approved by voters in 2000. Since sales tax revenues are affected by the economy, the money that schools receive from Prop. 301 varies each year.
“Fiscal year 2021 was the first year where a portion of the Classroom Site Fund, which is the money from the sales tax from Prop. 301, actually went into the teacher salary increase,” Dr. Essigs said. “The prior years, the state picked up the full cost of increasing teachers’ salaries, but for fiscal year 2021 and future years going forward a portion of that money will come out of the Classroom Site Fund.”
Significant increase from the 20% by 2020 plan
For the 20 by 2020 plan, the Arizona Legislature provided funds to boost average teacher pay by 5 percent each year in fiscal years 2018 through 2021.
The proposal adds the teacher salary increase to base-level funding, which makes it part of the formula that receives required annual inflation increases, Dr. Essigs said.
The process focused on raising the average teacher salary in each school district by 20 percent, so there were some teachers may have received less than a 20 percent raise, Dr. Essigs said.
“It certainly has helped make teachers’ salaries more competitive,” Dr. Essigs said. “We don’t know what that did to Arizona in comparison to the rest of the country because the data is not available yet.”
Former House Speaker J.D. Mesnard has initially outlined a plan to boost teacher pay by 6 percent next school year, with annual increases that could lead to a 23 percent increase after five years from redirecting planned increases in school funding directly to teacher pay. The plan was changed and then put forward by Gov. Doug Ducey at a news conference on April 21, 2018.
The amount was more than the 1.06 percent teacher pay raise proposed in the governor’s budget in early January 2018. That 1.06 percent increase totaled about $34 million and would have been the second part of the two percent raise proposed in the previous year’s budget.
“Last year’s budget combined with this year’s budget will result in a 10 percent increase in teacher pay in the base, ongoing, inflated,” Gov. Ducey said at the news conference in 2018. “Next year’s budget will include another five percent increase. The year after that will include another five percent. That combined with the pay increase provided last year, means by the beginning of the 2020 school year every Arizona teacher will have received a cumulative raise of 20 percent.”
The governor’s proposal came one day after teachers across Arizona held walk-ins at schools around the state seeking community support for their calls for bringing per-pupil funding to pre-recession levels and increasing teacher pay.
It’s a little early to know what legislative priorities are for the upcoming session, Dr. Essigs said.
“Certainly teacher salaries will continue to be an issue, but with COVID-19 and all of the issues related to that, that’s probably going to be a top priority of the legislature,” Dr. Essigs said.