Arizona Governor Ducey refuses teacher calls for 20 percent raise

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey isn't bending to teachers' demands that he find a way to give them a 20 percent pay boost.

The Republican said Thursday he's sticking to a 1 percent raise and whatever school districts can get out of $100 million in extra cash he's putting into his current budget proposal.

Ducey said since he took office in 2015, there's 9 percent more dollars available for teachers' pay. More than half of that, however, is for new teachers hired to accommodate enrollment growth.

"That's not enough, and there's more on the way," he said.

Thousands of teachers protested at the Capitol on Wednesday for the 20 percent boost. They also want regular raises, a return to pre-Great recession school funding levels and no more tax cuts until per pupil spending matches the national average.

Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. Adjusted for local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers in Arizona rank 50th in earnings nationally and high school teachers rank 49th.

Arizona teachers were galvanized into action by the success of a similar movement in West Virginia earlier this month, where teachers won a 5 percent raise after going on strike. In Oklahoma, the Legislature narrowly averted a threatened teacher walk-out by passing tax hikes on Wednesday that will generate hundreds of millions of dollars for salaries.

Ducey wouldn't commit Thursday to any of the teachers' demands. Instead, he said school funding is "trending in the right direction" and that his budget proposal for the coming year commits 80 percent of new spending to K-12 schools.

"Our teachers are doing a wonderful job," he said. "They're getting great results and they deserve more pay and that's what I'm working on."

Noah Karvelis, a teacher and Arizona Educators United organizer who helped mobilize the teacher protests, called Ducey's response an insult.

"It's a slap to the face to all these educations out here who are doing everything they can to stick to this profession," Karvelis said. "Doug Ducey will continue to side with corporations and huge donors and give them everything they want."

A 20 percent pay increase would cost about $680 million a year, nearly a 7 percent increase to next year's $10.1 billion budget plan. The governor has consistently pushed for tax cuts even as schools remain underfunded.

"I don't think our ask is ridiculous," Karvelis said. "We're just asking for what makes us competitive with other states in the region."

Ducey's refusal to bend to teachers' demands was echoed by Republican Legislative leaders.

"I admire them, I encourage them, I love that they exercise the First Amendment and have rallies," Republican Senate President Steve Yarbrough said in an interview. "I don't know where I would find $680 million moment at the moment."

He explicitly ruled out a tax increase, as the governor repeatedly has.

And the head of the Senate's budget-writing appropriations committee said much the same, noting the 1.2 percent teacher raise and a similar amount planned for the next school year and competing interests seeking more state funding.

"There are thousands of people on (Medicaid), there are thousands of disabled people, there are thousands of corrections officers, there are thousands of state employees," GOP Sen. John Kavanagh said. "Everybody has legitimate wants and needs and as the economy comes back we'll do our best to meet all of them. But we can't pick and choose one over the other, although we have given teachers a very high priority."