Arizona lawmakers start a new legislative session in Phoenix Monday and pay raises for public schoolteachers is expected to be a big issue. The economy is showing strong growth and officials estimate the state budget surplus has reached hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of that money is expected to go to teachers who were promised incremental pay raises in 2018 as announced by Governor Doug Ducey. KNAU’s Steve Shadley spoke to Derek Born, a Flagstaff teacher and member of the “Red for Ed” group that rallied for raises, about what teachers might receive in their paychecks this year…
Shadley: “Hello, Derek, thanks for joining us today…”
Born: “Hi, thanks for having me…”
Shadley: “So, remind us what happened in 2018. Teachers organized. They created this ‘Red for Ed’ group and they gathered at the state capitol. Take it from there…”
Born: “It was really an amazing thing to be a part of something I had hoped for my whole career, honestly. It was truly as grassroots as it gets. It started in every school. People that had never been plugged into anything suddenly taking on leadership roles. I want to be part of this. How do I, where do I get started? And, yeah, then it culminated in a vote statewide to go on strike. We called it a walk-out but I mean…a little difference there. So, people showed up. 80,000 people there at the capitol and just being a part of that street power was a highlight of my life, for sure. And, as soon as we got a big statewide walk-in before the walk-out which was just people gathering at school sites to hold signs and show solidarity, protests to ask for more…that’s when actually Ducey, Governor Ducey promised the raise. I think he saw that without doing something big he was going to risk his re-election. And, 100,000 people statewide in every district just about in these walk-ins was I think immediately about two days later he put out his plan.”
Shadley: “So, remind us. What are the details of the plan that he unveiled back then?”
Born: “Well, he called it ‘20 by 2020’ and the idea was that over three years a 19 or 20% raise, depending on how you counted it, 10% the first year, then 5 and 5 the two years after. But, none of the nurses, counselors, librarians, speech therapists, any other people that provide special education services—these folks work directly with out children everyday for their educational needs—and they were not included in this pay raise. So, districts like ours felt compelled, you know out of an ethical obligation, to ensure that those people saw in the gains as well which reduces the pot for everyone else.”
Shadley: “Now, there may be some people listening to us today Derek who are thinking wow, 19 to 20%, that seems like an awful lot. How do you answer critics who say that’s too much over 3 years?”
Born: “No. I understand that. And, of course, we were happy to see raises. I mean when you have been starved for a long time to finally get some nutrition in you is a wonderful thing. But, the reality is we are still 45th, depending on what study you look at, 47th in the nation in teacher pay. We were still so far behind the curve that even a 20% raise, believe it or not, barely moves us up in the rankings one or two places from very very low. So, the other piece of the puzzle there is that even with these pay raises, teachers are still leaving the state in record numbers. We are in a true educator crisis. We are actually seeing virtually no slow down yet in the rate of teachers leaving and there’s a huge group about to retire.”
Shadley: “Derek Born, thank you.”
Born: “My pleasure.”
That was KNAU’s Steve Shadley speaking with Flagstaff teacher Derek Born. Born is involved with the group “Red for Ed” that staged massive protests at the state capitol a few years ago seeking higher pay for educators.
UPDATE: Governor Ducey's Deputy Communications Director Ben Petersen said in an email to KNAU the governor will fully fund the 20x2020 plan to raise teacher pay 20 percent by school year 2020. He said education has been Governor Ducey’s number one funding priority since 2015. To date, nearly $470 million has been provided in permanent, ongoing dollars to school districts and charters to meet these raises — and these dollars are getting to teachers and making a difference. Petersen said many school districts are going above and beyond the 15 percent provided to this point. He said for example, the average salary of teachers in Flagstaff Unified School District has increased 16% since FY 2018, while it has increased 17% in Grand Canyon Unified School District and 16% in Williams Unified School District.