PHOENIX - During a lively 3-hour rally at the Arizona State Capitol Wednesday, a coalition of groups representing K-12 public teachers announced demands for a 20-percent raise. A few thousand protestors were in attendance at the event that produced the most specific demands yet from educators.
The five demands by Arizona Educators United to the state legislature and governor are:
• A 20-percent pay increase for teachers in order to compete with salaries from neighboring states
• A "steps and lanes" program that awards educators with annual raises that match their experience and knowledge
• Restoration of public education funds to 2008 levels
• A commitment to not pass any more tax cuts until per-pupil funding matches the national averages
• A guarantee that education support professionals are paid a "competitive wage" with their counterparts in other states
"The governor could end this right now. I truly believe he can," said Noah Karvelis, a teacher at Tres Rios Elementary School in Tolleson and co-organizer of the Arizona Educators United Facebook group.
Karvelis said he wants a face-to-face meeting with Governor Doug Ducey to address the concerns of teachers.
"What action we take will depend on response we see from the governor and the legislature. It will also depend on the response we see from teachers and schools," Karvelis said.
Wednesday evening, a spokesperson for Ducey issued the following statement:
"Governor Ducey believes teachers are the biggest difference-makers out there. They do extraordinary work each day, and they should be valued and rewarded for their hard work. More needs to done, but our state has made progress. School districts have increased their investment in teacher salaries by 9%, according to the Arizona School Boards Association. In 2017 we saw an increase of 4.3% in average teacher salaries from 2016 to 2017, bringing the average teacher salary in Arizona to $48,372. His goal is to pass a budget in the next few weeks that continues to increase our investment in public education, but we won't stop there. We will continue each year to put more resources into K-12 education to better serve our teachers and students. He meets with teachers regularly and wants to continue a dialogue about increasing our investment in Arizona schools and teachers."
The state is still trying to climb out of a massive financial hole left by 2008 recession-era budget cuts.
The current proposed budget by Governor Ducey for next year is $952 million less compared to 2008 levels.
Teacher salaries remain near the bottom in the country. There are 1,968 teacher vacancies statewide. 866 teachers have quit their positions this year, according to numbers gathered in December by a teachers human resources organization.
"Educators don't want to strike, but they might have to," Karvelis said.