Faced with growing pressure from educators, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced Thursday his plan to give teachers 20% pay raises by the beginning of the 2020 school year.
But Arizona educators who have been calling for better pay and more school funding reacted to the governor's announcement with questions and skepticism.
Gov. Doug Ducey proposes 20% pay raise and restoration of recession-era cuts
Teachers group remains skeptical and says plan left out several of their demands
Under his proposal, teachers' pay would increase 9% in the 2018 school year, then another 5% for the next two years, which would boost the average salary from the current $48,372 to $58,130 by the 2020 school year.
"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% pay increase by school year 2020," Ducey said in a statement.
Ducey has also proposed to restore education funding from recession-era cuts with $371 million phased in over the next five years "all without raising taxes while maintaining Arizona's balanced budget." The funding would be to support school resources such as infrastructure, textbooks, technology, curriculum and school buses.
More dollars are available for classrooms and teachers, because the state's revenues are on the rise "combined with a reduction in state government operating budgets," according to his plan.
But many teachers and education professionals weren't buying it. They said Ducey's plan lacked specifics and left out several of their demands.
Vanessa Jimenez, vice president of the Phoenix Union Classified Employees Association said her heart sank when she heard Ducey's announcement.
"He made no mention of education support professionals," she said, pointing out that the language in the governor's proposal pertains to teachers' pay raises.
"When I think of his proposal, it's an attempt to divide us," she said. "We're not going to be divided."
What the teachers want
For weeks, Arizona educators have held rallies and this week, they participated in "walk-ins" before class. The walk-ins held Wednesday are part of a series of escalating actions sponsored by Arizona Educators United coalition.
The group has called for 20% pay raises for teachers and certified staff by the next school year, competitive wages for classified staff, annual raises until the state teacher salary reaches the national average, the return of school funding to 2008 levels, and a decrease in class sizes to a 23:1 student-to-teacher ratio.
For weeks, the group has encouraged teachers and supporters to wear red to school on Wednesdays -- the color to reflect their frustration. They call the movement #REDforED, using the hashtag in social media posts. The group has indicated that walkouts could be next.
In response to the governor's announcement, Noah Karvelis, a teacher and an Arizona Educators United organizer said: "It feels like an attempt to stop whatever action we may have been taking, instead of a legitimate groundwork for future investment in education and to fulfill our demands."
"This has made more questions for us than answers. We don't know the details. We don't know the funding sources," he said.
Arizona ranks 43rd in the nation in terms of how much it pays its teachers, according to the National Education Association.
Arizona teachers are among educators across the country pushing for better pay and conditions, inspired in part by teachers in West Virginia, who got a 5% pay raise last month after protesting. Meanwhile, the teachers' union in Oklahoma ended its walkout after nine days on Thursday.