PHOENIX -- Unable to stop educators from walking out, Gov. Doug Ducey now is trying to pressure members of his own Republican Party to approve his pay hike proposal -- and his plan to fund it largely through anticipated economic growth.
The new tactic came Thursday morning as thousands of teachers and support staff stayed away from their classrooms. One estimate is that more than 800,000 of the 1.1 million students in the state were affected by the strike.
Ducey, in a series of appearances on morning news shows, repeated his contention that his plan to boost teacher pay by 19 percent by the 2020-2021 school year is financially viable. And he said that is not affected by a separate promise to finally restore $371 million a year within five years that schools are supposed to get -- but have not been getting -- for other capital needs like books, computers, buses and minor repairs.
Republicans who control both the House and Senate are balking, saying they're not convinced that the dollars will be there, particularly in future years.
So Ducey has been distributing the Legislasture's web site -- www.azleg.gov -- with the idea that members of the public should look up their lawmakers and send them a message to approve his plan.
"We need our help to make it a reality,'' the governor said in a statement. "Call your legislator and tell them to vote 'yes' on a 20 percent pay raise for Arizona teachers.''
Ducey calls it a 20 percent hike because he is including a 1 percent pay increase that teachers already got for the current school year.
But the governor remains adamant that he will not talk with leaders of what's become known as the #RedForEd movement, Noah Karvelis of Arizona Educators United or Joe Thomas of the Arizona Education Association.
"I'm not ignoring anyone,'' Ducey insisted, saying he has met with individual teachers.
While Ducey is pressuring the GOP lawmakers who control both the House and Senate, Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, warned colleagues of a potentially unintended effect if lawmakers approve the additional dollars that the governor wants.
He pointed out that voters in 2016 approved Proposition 123. Designed to settle a lawsuit over the failure of the state to meet its constitutional obligation to increase state aid annually to keep pace with inflation, it will add $3.5 billion between now and 2025.
But that measure contains a poison pill of sorts: It put a provision in the Arizona Constitution to say that, beginning in 2024, lawmakers would no longer have to finance inflation increases if K-12 funding exceeds 49 percent of the state budget.
And if it hits 50 percent, the Legislature actually can cut state aid to schools.
Farley said an analysis of Ducey's plan by legislative budget staffers show that by the 2020-2021 school year aid to education will hit 48.6 percent. And that's presuming that the Republican-controlled Legislature does not enact any future tax cuts.
He said that won't occur if lawmakers support the Democrat goal of funding teacher pay hikes by adding additional revenues, whether by imposing a new levy to pay for the higher salaries or reversing some of the previously restricted tax cuts. Either method, Farley said, will keep overall spending on state government high enough not to trigger the cut in education funding.
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