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GOP plan to raise teacher salaries advances in the AZ Legislature

Published: Thursday, February 8, 2024 - 12:06pm

A Republican plan to raise teacher salaries advanced Wednesday at the Arizona Legislature, but Democratic lawmakers don’t think the measure goes far enough to boost pay for all staff at K-12 schools.

Proposition 123, a measure passed by voters in 2016, increased the allocation of money from the state land trust to 6.9% to fund K-12 education. Republicans want to send a proposal to voters that would renew the measure and earmark all the money drawn from the land trust to raise teacher salaries. 

Democratic lawmakers tried to amend the resolution to increase the amount pulled from the land trust to support education to 8.9%, as suggested by Gov. Katie Hobbs. They want some of that money to go to salary increases for teachers, but also other school staff like librarians and aides. 

So far, Republicans haven’t budged. Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) warned against Democrats’ push to amend the ballot referral.

“Knowing that teachers get a $4,000 raise, I think that’s a no-brainer to most voters, so I'm not too worried. … I do become much more worried about it if we were to adopt your amendment,” Mesnard said.

Mesnard’s resolution is tied to another measure sponsored by Sen. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) that Democrats also oppose. It stipulates that teachers designated with low performance classifications wouldn’t be eligible for the pay raises.

Both measures passed out of committee on party lines. 

Democrats warn that the ballot referral will need to get support from more than just legislative Republicans before it goes to voters.

“It was all hands on deck in 2016 and even then it barely got across the finish line, we are going to need that again or this is just doomed to failure,” Sen. Christine Marsh (D-Phoenix) said.

During testimony at a committee hearing, Education Finance Reform Group lobbyist Rebecca Beebe brought up another potential issue.

Under existing law, lawmakers and the governor will have the authority to cut education funding by up to 4% starting in 2026 if more than 50% of the state general fund is being spent on education.

Education expenses currently exceed 50% of the state general fund. 

Beebe warned that in a scenario where lawmakers cut school funding, and schools in turn have to cut costs, Hoffman’s proposal bars them from reducing teacher salaries below a certain level — so schools would be forced to lay off teachers to balance their budgets.  

She suggested that lawmakers make a change now in whatever Prop. 123 renewal proposal moves forward that would address the trigger in a way that would make it harder to cut education funding.

Politics Education