Gov. Doug Ducey proposes teacher pay increase of 9% this year, 20% by 2020

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Caving to demands from teachers who have protested low pay and school funding shortfalls for weeks, Gov. Doug Ducey has announced a new teacher pay raise proposal.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, the governor said he was proposing to give teachers across the board a permanent 9 percent pay increase THIS year, with a 20 percent total increase by 2020.

"Education is our top priority in Arizona," Ducey said. "Our teachers are the biggest difference-makers in the lives of Arizona’s children. They deserve to be rewarded for their hard work."

"We are continuing our commitment to prioritize public education -- without raising taxes while maintaining Arizona’s balanced budget," Ducey tweeted Thursday.

[RAW VIDEO: Gov. Ducey announces plan to increase teacher pay 20% by 2020]

Thursday's announcement follows a month of intense pressure from teachers.

Teachers who organized a grassroots effort that drew more than 40,000 members were cool to the announcement, saying they wanted details before reacting.

"What he gave us today was just a proposal, it wasn't legislation, and we don't know where the money's coming from and we don't know if he's talking about everybody involved in education or just classroom teachers," Tucson teacher and Arizona Educators United organizer Derek Harris said. "There so many more of us that need it than just classroom teachers."

Other teachers say this new raise would be a good start. They just hope school support staff aren't forgotten about. 

"My biggest concern is who is not mentioned in this, and that is out support staff, our councilors," said Scott MacMurdo, a physical education eeacher. 

"Our cafeteria workers, out bus drivers, the custodians, everyone who helps to make our education system great around our schools," added 7th Grade teacher Justin Besonen.

[RELATED: Arizona teachers demand 20 percent raises during statewide protests]

Ducey was vague about where the cash would come from, only saying a growing economy and lower spending in other areas unexpectedly freed up $274 million this year. As recently as Tuesday, he said he was sticking with his plan to give teachers just a 1 percent raise in the coming year.

A school advocate who helped block a Ducey-backed voucher proposal was on the stage behind him and said she believes the teachers will get on board - if the proposal isn't changed at the Legislature.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona school in crisis]

"We're all unified in that if this plays out the way that it's being said today then this is a major step forward," said Dawn Penich-Thacker, a spokeswoman for Save Our Schools Arizona. "There's a lot more to do, but it's a good-faith gesture that we think is something to continue working together on."

The developments come after Arizona teachers and others held "walk-ins" at more than 1,000 schools Wednesday to draw attention to their demands.

Ducey refused to meet with teachers, calling their protests "political theater, but changed his tune after teachers threatened a walkout and said a strike date could be set soon.

[RELATED: Gov. Ducey calls #RedForEd movement 'political theater,' says teachers should 'know the facts']

"It was interesting to see that a few days ago the governor had dismissed us as political theater and now he's impressed," Harris said, while noting the group would wait for follow-through. "At this point there's not really anything to trust."

Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation, with elementary instructors earning a median 2017 wage of $43,280 and high school teachers $46,470, the 3rd and 6th lowest in the nation, respectively, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Adjusted for local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers actually rank 49th in earnings and high school teachers 48th.

[INFOGRAPHIC: How AZ teacher pay compares to other states]

Ducey says the average teacher earned $48,372 last year. Under his proposal, average teacher pay would go to $58,130 by the start of 2020, Ducey said, without taking money he promised earlier in the year to restore previous funding cuts.

The teacher pay boost will cost $274 million for the coming school year and $650 million by 2020 and go into the base school formula that increases for inflation each year.

The proposal rolled out by the Republican governor Thursday doesn't increase funding for other school needs. But he already proposed $100 million in his budget plan as a start to restoring nearly $400 million cuts made earlier in the decade - including $117 million he cut in 2015.

[RELATED: AZ teachers considering strike if school walk-ins don't prompt change in pay]

[RELATED: AZ teachers increase protests and rallies; threat of strike looming]

"We know that there are other needs in public education, so there will be no shell games," Ducey said. "This investment will be in addition to the $371 million in district additional assistance which will provide flexible funding for Arizona schools' most pressing needs - fixing school infrastructure, modernizing curriculum, school buses and updating classroom technologies.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona politics]

Earlier on Thursday, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard rolled out a proposal to boost teacher pay by 6 percent next year and 24 percent over the next six years.

The speaker hopes this will appease teachers who've threatened to strike if they didn't get an immediate 20 percent pay raise. 

"We're going to make sure teacher pay is our number one priority. There's no doubt about it; this plan would make sure that teachers get raises," Mesnard said.

However, the speaker's plan didn't address all of the demands made by teachers, who have staged "walk-ins" and "sick-outs" across the state as part of the #RedForEd movement.

Beyond teacher pay, #RedForEd wants state leaders to increase overall K-12 spending as per-pupil funding remains less than it was ten years ago. 

[SLIDESHOW: Arizona teachers hold protests at schools demanding higher pay]

Mesnard's plan takes money away from capital improvements -- like new books, buses, building maintenance -- to fund teacher salaries.

Joe Thomas, the president of the Arizona Educators Association, described that proposal as a "shell game" that will force schools to make do with outdated equipment and school facilities.  

"This will pit teachers against air conditioners and that's a false choice for students," Thomas said. 

Mesnard stood with Ducey as his fellow Republican rolled out his plan, and later said his proposal was meant to show more teacher pay was possible.

"I think what's very clear is that we all share the same priorities," Mesnard said. "We want to get more money into the classroom, more money into teacher pay, and it's always been about how we go about achieving that."

Arizona PTA president Beth Simek, who supported the statewide activist movement and was involved with the discussions for the governor's proposal, called it "a huge step forward."

She said the governor is meeting the grassroots activists halfway.

"The governor saw that this was a huge priority," she said. "He saw the #RedforEd movement; he heard what we had to say."

"Arizona's hardworking and dedicated teachers deserve a raise," tweeted Ducey Thursday. "That’s what this plan does. We are putting more dollars towards our most important priorities: Arizona teachers and classrooms."

[REFRESH YOUR MEMORY: Gov. Ducey declares victory for Prop. 123 | Education funding in state budget hinges on Prop 123]

The Governor's office released the following statement:

Governor Doug Ducey today announced that he is continuing investments in Arizona’s education system by increasing teacher salaries 20 percent by the beginning of the 2020 school year. This initiative is in addition to his plan to fully restore recession-era cuts over the next five years — all without raising taxes while maintaining Arizona’s balanced budget.

To start, the governor’s FY2019 teacher pay increase will be boosted to nine percent. This in combination with the pay increase in FY2018 will result in a total 10 percent increase for FY2019, effective at the start of the 2018 school year this fall. Additional 5 percent increases will be made the next two years to achieve a net 20 percent increase by the 2020 school year.

This plan builds on the governor’s proposal to invest $371 million in District Additional Assistance and Charter Additional Assistance, phased-in over the next five years. An initial investment of $100 million will be made in FY2019. These dollars provide flexibility to school districts for investment in resources including fixing school infrastructure, modernizing curriculum, school buses and updating classroom technologies.

“Arizona teachers are the biggest difference-makers in the lives of Arizona’s children, and we need to reward them for their hard work —  this plan does that through a 20 percent pay increase by school year 2020,” said Governor Ducey. “We are also making significant investments in Arizona classrooms in a responsible and sustainable way. We will never stop our commitment to improving Arizona’s public education system because when it comes to our kids, we must never stop working for them.For more details on the plan click HERE.

The group Expect More Arizona released this statement following the Governor's announcement:

“The Governor’s teacher pay proposal is a good step forward and would propel Arizona closer to meeting our shared goal of being at the national median for teacher pay by 2022. As we consider his plan, we still need a long-term funding solution that supports the entire education continuum and ensures safe learning environments and access to 21stcentury resources for educators and students across the state,” said Christine M. Thompson, president & CEO, Expect More Arizona. “Expect More Arizona is eager to continue working together, across party lines, to find long-term funding solutions that support the success of every student, every step of the way – regardless of background, income or zip code.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas had this to say: 

“I have long been an advocate that Arizona teachers receive substantial salary increases. I’m pleased to see leadership at the Capitol focusing so intently on this incredibly important issue. I am confident that the Governor and the Legislature will reach a positive outcome for teachers and Arizonans. I would be happy to support those efforts in any way that I can.”

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