Last week, Gov. Doug Ducey made an about-face on funding a teacher pay raise. A day after dismissing the #RedforEd movement as “political theater” and vowing to stick to a 1 percent teacher pay increase, the governor announced a 20 percent increase over three years, starting with 9 percent next year.
The governor’s support for a 20 percent pay increase is laudable. He has heard and presumably agrees with our teachers that they simply can’t make ends meet on their woefully inadequate salaries. There are no other variables in the cost of K-12 education to manipulate that could result in those salaries being increased in any significant way.
However, the governor’s plan is seriously flawed, it robs Peter to pay Paul. No, to be accurate, his plan tromps, beats, assaults and seriously wounds Peter to pay Paul. The most egregious example: the proposal cuts the already inadequate amounts allocated to cover the increased cost of services to the developmentally disabled, our most vulnerable citizens.
There is more. Thirty-five million in new hospital fees could result in some hospitals curtailing services or worse — particularly those hospitals serving rural communities. Additionally, Ducey’s plan sweeps money intended for our universities. In effect, the plan helps Paul’s teachers at the potential expense of Peter’s ability to obtain an affordable college education.
Finally, the governor’s proposal leaves support staff, such as school counselors, off the list of those receiving a pay increase. The governor touted the importance of counselors when he included them in his school-safety plan. Why now exclude them?
We’ve seen this before. When past Arizona governors proposed major programs based on level general funds, the result was the program’s speedy unraveling.
For instance, it did not take long for the Legislature to ignore the funding formula for Gov. Jane Dee Hull’s Student’s FIRST program despite it being hard-wired into statute. The result? Crumbling infrastructure and the billion-dollar lawsuit pending against the state today.
The same fate befell Gov. Janet Napolitano’s laudable plan to fund all-day kindergarten. Relying on promises of future appropriations of general fund dollars by yet-to-be-elected legislators is a recipe for failure.
Our students deserve better. If built on ongoing sources of funding, teachers can count on the raise when looking for a house or deciding to raise a family, and we in turn can count on teachers to prepare our kids to become tomorrow’s leaders.
In Arizona, two sources of ongoing funding could be paired to pay for a 20 percent raise for teachers and support staff. First, let’s accept the governor’s optimism about future revenue growth, but let’s pare it down to a more conservative amount, say $100 million instead of more than $200 million. In addition, significant revenues could be generated, perhaps over $500 million, by rolling back a good portion of the cuts to the corporate income tax rate instituted in 2011 — a matter of adjusting the rate from its new low of 4.9 percent.
Many economists have questioned whether the corporate tax cuts stimulated the economy in any measurable way. Even former Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the cuts into law, has expressed regret over at their size.
The teacher-pay crisis is an opportunity to do what Arizona should have done long ago: shift education funding to permanent sources of revenue. As lawmakers, we welcome the opportunity to work across the aisle to identify such sources. Only by relying on permanent sources of revenue can Gov. Ducey call his teacher-pay proposal a real plan.