AZ Democrats react to Republican teacher pay plan

Published: Thursday, November 16, 2023 - 1:57pm

Republican lawmakers have a new plan to give teachers a $4,000 raise, but Democratic officials have reservations.

Republican Senate President Warren Petersen said lawmakers plan to ask voters to extend Proposition 123, a 2016 ballot measure that increased the amount of money schools receive from the state’s land trust fund. The new Republican proposal would require that all of those funds be spent on teacher pay. 

Christian Slater, a spokesman for Gov. Katie Hobbs, said the governor supports investing in teachers but called the Republican plan “half-baked.” 

“We need to see details, not rhetoric, from legislative Republicans before commenting any further,” Slater said in the statement.

Republican lawmakers broadly described the proposal during a press conference on Nov. 13 but have yet to provide concrete language outlining what exactly they will ask voters to approve.

Petersen said they could ask voters to extend Prop. 123 for between eight and 10 years.

There is also some question about what would happen if the trust underperforms and does not provide the funds necessary to provide the promised raises to teachers. Petersen said if the fund underperforms, then a smaller amount of money would go into the fund for teacher pay.

But both Rep. Matt Gress (R-Phoenix) and Sen. Ken Bennett (R-Prescott), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the state wouldn’t back out of its commitment to teachers if the fund underperforms and would backfill the commitment with funds from the state’s general fund.

Democratic lawmakers say they want to see those plans in writing before committing to support the effort. 

“We take seriously and are ready to discuss any realistic proposal to raise teacher pay, but the devil is always in the details with their proposals, where the headline rarely matches the facts,” Rep. Nancy Gutierrez, a Democrat and public school teacher from Tucson, said in a statement.

Republican lawmakers hold a slim majority in both chambers of the Legislature and don’t need Hobbs’ approval to refer issues to voters, but Democratic support could impact the proposal's chances at the ballot.

The last time Prop. 123 went to voters in 2016, then-Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, vocally supported the measure. It passed by a slim 51-49% margin.

Democrats are also aligned with the Arizona Education Association, which represents teachers throughout the state. Like Gutierrez, AEA President Marisol Garcia said she is willing to work with anyone working to give Arizona teachers a raise but said “the devil is in the details.”

Garcia also said she is concerned that the pay raise proposal does not include other school staff like counselors, librarians, paraprofessionals and bus drivers.

“Just like classroom teachers, our education support professionals are seriously underpaid, leading to shortages that impact our students every day,” Garcia said in a statement. “The people who open our schools in the morning, and who close our schools each night, deserve to be included in any proposed raise.”

Politics Education