Arizona lawmakers move to pass raises for striking teachers

Arizona lawmakers move to pass raises for striking teachers
The Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers are rushing to pass a plan that will give a pay bump to teachers who have walked off the job in an unprecedented statewide strike, closing schools for the fourth day.

Hearings began Tuesday on a state budget proposal that will help fund 10 percent raises for educators next year and make the first payment toward restoring nearly $400 million slashed from school building and maintenance budgets following the Great Recession.

The teacher raise is half a 20 percent bump that Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has promised by 2020.

Tens of thousands of Arizona teachers are protesting low pay and school funding, saying Ducey’s plan doesn’t go far enough to restore lost classroom resources or offer raises to support staff.

Here are key items in the plan backed by GOP leaders in the Republican-led Legislature:

HIGHER SPENDING

The $10.4 billion budget boosts spending for the 2019 fiscal year beginning July 1 by about $200 million from the governor’s January proposal. GOP leaders say the added cash mainly comes from increasing revenue due to an improving economy.

TEACHER PAY

The plan dedicates nearly $273 million for a 9 percent teacher raise and wraps in $34 million from a 1 percent pay increase last year. The money will go only to teachers with class rosters and bypass specialized educators, such as reading specialists. It also gives school districts leeway to divvy up the cash how they want, such as giving bigger raises to low-earning teachers and smaller boosts to those at the top of the pay scale.

CASH FOR SCHOOLS

The Legislature has slashed about $371 million in annual payments for other school district costs since 2009, including cutting $117 million in Ducey’s first year in office in 2015. The money helps schools pay for things like repairs, textbooks, school buses and support staff salaries. Teachers say those and other cuts have made their jobs untenable. The budget restores $100 million as part of a plan to return the payments to pre-recession levels in five years.

MOVING MONEY

To get the cash needed, the budget deal shifts cash from a slew of other uses, counts on lower Medicaid costs and boosts a hospital assessment fee by $35 million. Hospitals are expected to see higher federal payments to make up the difference. Other sources of cash include $6 million taken from the state agency that doles out incentives to companies to move to Arizona and $22 million in higher drug rebates for Medicaid patients.

OTHER SWEETENERS

The budget contains some items designed to garner support from conservative Republicans, after the governor and GOP leaders bypassed minority Democrats to get the deal done.

The most obvious is an extra $2 million for “Freedom Schools” at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona that are backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, who support Ducey and are trying to add conservative political and economic schools at universities nationwide.

The proposal also forces $18 million in increases to local property taxes, mainly in Tucson and Phoenix, by cutting payments counties use to backfill high property taxes prompted by school desegregation agreements.

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