Smith: How the 20 percent pay raise for teachers works

With Arizona’s 2018-19 state budget now signed by the governor, I wanted to clearly explain how the 20 percent teacher pay raise was determined, how it will be provided to schools, who will be receiving raises and how much should educators expect – as there has been a great deal of misinformation about how this actually works.

Sen. Steve Smith

First and foremost, the questions that are often asked is, “What is the definition of a teacher?” “Who will be receiving these raises?”

To answer that question, the Legislature does not define who a teacher is. Each local school district governing board makes that determination. We simply used what each district reports to the Arizona Department of Education for “year-end teacher full-time equivalents” to help us determine how much money would be needed to generate a 20 percent raise by 2020. How we provided the funding maintains Arizona’s long-standing emphasis on local control by allowing local districts flexibility in determining who will receive raises.

So how does the 20 percent pay raise work?

Arizona’s auditor general (the independent source of impartial information concerning state and local government agencies) recently reported the statewide average district teacher salary is $48,372. That is an independent, non-partisan number, and while some district teachers earn more and others less, that is the true average salary of district teachers in Arizona.

To determine the 20 percent by 2020 teacher pay raise, we started by determining the amount needed for a 1 percent teacher pay raise based on the actual reported cost of the 1 percent raise we passed last year. Since we typically experience inflation each year and expect to have more teachers in Arizona classrooms in each of the next three years, a 1 percent raise in 2020 would be a bit higher and cost more than a 1 percent raise this year. To make sure we provided enough funding for this growth, we took the average over the next three fiscal years, added in funding for employment-related expenses such as health and dental benefits, and determined the amount necessary for a 1 percent teacher pay increase to be $32.25 million.

Since we promised a 20 percent raise by 2020, we multiplied that 1 percent by 20, resulting in $645 million. The plan spreads the pay increase over three fiscal years (10 percent up front this year, 5 percent in 2019 and 5 percent in 2020), resulting in $305 million this year, $470 million added on top of that the next year and then up to the total $645 million in 2020. That means over the next three fiscal years, we will cumulatively be providing $1.42 billion in new state funding for teacher salary increases. In other words, this funding provides the amount necessary to bring the statewide average of district teacher salaries up to $58,046 by 2020, or $9,674 above the 2017 level of $48,372 – a 20 percent raise by 2020 just as promised.

Furthermore, since the calculations for the 20 percent raise by 2020 are based on the statewide average, the funding provided for teacher pay raises through the state budget will actually provide the largest percentage increase to those teachers who earn a salary below the statewide average and are in need of a pay raise the most.

Some have falsely claimed this funding package is not a permanent pay raise and the money could be reduced in future years. This is completely untrue.

The new money for teacher pay included in the state budget was included in the statutory “base level” amount of our state K-12 funding formula. Thanks to Proposition 301, the base level amount is inflated each year and cannot be reduced by a future legislature, but by only a vote from the people. That is why we specifically allocated the new teacher pay-raise dollars through this voter protected portion of the formula – to guarantee our teachers that this money is permanent, ongoing and inflated.

So who will be receiving these new dollars? The state legislature does not attach red tape to our K-12 funding. Local school districts determine how general K-12 formula dollars are spent. The same goes for the new $1.42 billion that districts will receive over the next three years for teacher pay raises. Schools will receive their portion of the new funding based on their weighted student count, and each local district will be responsible for determining how to allocate the pay raises to teachers.

So, if a teacher does not receive their portion of the money appropriated for teacher pay raises this year, that would be due to a decision by their local district board, not the state legislature. To make sure districts are held accountable, we included strong intent language directing the $1.42 billion to be used for teacher pay increases, and required schools to post their average teacher salaries, and the amount of year-over-year increases on their websites. Therefore, be sure your voices are heard in your local districts to ensure teachers receive the pay increases they deserve.

Finally, some will contend that while the 20 percent raise is great for teachers, schools have other needs like building repairs, upgraded school buses, raises for non-teacher employees, etc. We agree. So in addition to all new funding for teacher pay raises, we also allocated $503.4 million cumulatively by 2020 ($100 million this year, $167.8M in 2019 and $235.6 million in 2020) in additional assistance funding that schools may spend to address these needs. That means new monies provided to our schools for teacher pay raises and additional assistance will total over $2 billion by 2020.

That just covers the major new spending provided in this newly passed state budget. Schools will still continue to receive base annual inflation funding, Proposition 123 monies, local bond and override dollars and capital funding provided through the School Facilities Board.

These are the legitimate facts regarding K-12 funding in the budget just passed by the Arizona Legislature, and signed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. It dedicates 48 percent of the entire state general fund budget to K-12 education, clearly signifying that our students, teachers and schools are the most important asset in the state.

Arizona Sen. Steve Smith

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