The legislature has officially transmitted its budget for next fiscal year (July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018) to the Governor. Thank you to all of the supporters of education that took action to contact their legislators and share their priorities. These efforts helped ensure that dollars were included for every part of the education spectrum, from early education to postsecondary. Here were some of the key outcomes:
Teacher Pay – Teachers were the main focus of discussions around this budget, and in the end, it included funding for student loan forgiveness and professional development, along with an expedited timeline for a proposed 2% teacher pay increase. Originally, Governor Ducey had proposed phasing this 2% increase in over five years, but the legislature chose to phase it in over the next two. The total impact to the budget is $68 million. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates this will amount to a $470 raise the first year and $940 total, presuming an average salary of $47,000 (the median salary, which is the metric used in the Arizona Education Progress Meter, is lower).
We all know high-quality teachers are the most important factor to improve student achievement, but median elementary teacher pay in Arizona ranks 50th in the nation, which is unacceptable. Neighboring states like Nevada are actively recruiting our teachers because they are able to pay them nearly $13,500 more a year. If we expect student achievement to improve and our communities to thrive, Arizona’s teacher salaries must be competitive with other states. To do that would require a raise nearly 13 times the size of the one passed this year. Arizona’s teacher recruitment and retention crisis that can’t be solved in one budget alone. Expect More Arizona continues to push for a long-term solution to the issue, including through the renewal and expansion of Proposition 301.
3rd Grade Reading – Literacy was a focus for us this legislative session, and we were pleased to see $8 million in FY18 and $12 million in FY 19 appropriated for early literacy grants. This will provide support for programs in schools with at least 90% free and reduced price lunch populations that improve reading skills, literacy, and proficiency for K-3 students. These grants are approved by State Board of Education, work on a 3 year cycle, are distributed on a per pupil basis, and are in addition to Move on When Reading dollars. A student’s ability to read at grade level by the end of third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success. Expect More Arizona and our partners have worked hard to get new funding allocated for programs and strategies that are proven to improve reading proficiency in third grade, and we will continue to push to ensure this is prioritized to an even greater extent in future budgets.
Postsecondary Attainment and Enrollment– Another effort of ours was to ensure that postsecondary institutions received additional support to improve attainment and post-high school enrollment in Arizona. This took the form of $15 million to the universities to help cover the cost of educating an in-state student, which was in line with what Expect More Arizona and the Arizona Board of Regents advocated for. In addition, we supported the creation of a University Capital Infrastructure Fund for each of the three universities. The budget appropriates $27 million in total to them for the purposes of financing capital projects (up to $1 billion) or paying off the debt on those projects. Language was included to prevent the appropriation from lapsing for 25 years and to adjust the amount for inflation. We will continue to fight not only for universities but for a restoration of funding to community colleges, along with full support for JTED and CTE programs that provide additional pathways to a postsecondary education.
Moving Forward – While this is the most education-friendly budget in many years and we are pleased it prioritized funding for each part of the education spectrum, it also reflects the harsh reality that the state’s currently available resources fall short of what is needed to address many of Arizona’s critical education issues. The Governor and legislature did well with what they had to work with and can’t commit money the state doesn’t have, but more must be done in the future if we are going to meaningfully move the ball forward on things like teacher pay, early literacy and postsecondary attainment. The Arizona Education Progress Meter shows us what it takes to build an excellent education every step of the way. Expect More Arizona will continue to advocate for long-term solutions that get us there.