State lawmakers took the first steps Wednesday to give public schoolteachers a big pay hike. Without dissent, the House Committee on K-12 Education approved a $2,500 across-the-board raise.
But HB2563 still has several hurdles before it becomes law. It must still gain approval of another House panel as well as the full House — and, eventually, go through a similar process in the Senate.
And Sen. Toni Hellon, RTucson, who leads the counterpart committee in the Senate, said she opposes this approach.
Hellon said she believes teachers should be paid more. But she noted this proposal does nothing to boost starting pay to attract people into the profession.
More problematic, she said, is that HB2563 contains funding for just one year, with no guarantee of ongoing state financing. That means the pay hikes could disappear the following school year.
She questioned whether the legislation is little more than an election year gimmick.
A survey during the 2003-04 school year by the American Federation of Teachers showed the average salary in Arizona at $42,324, versus $46,587 nationwide. That same survey put the average starting pay at $28,236; that figure was $31,704 nationwide.
State Superintendent of P ublic Instruction Tom Horne testified Wednesday in support of the House proposal. He said teachers are being asked to do more and be more accountable.
“But we must do something on the positive side to retain our highly qualified teachers and attract more talented people into teaching,’’ he said.
Janice Palmer, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, had the same objection as Hellon: The measure increases the base pay for every teacher by $2,500 but provides funding for just one year.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran, R-Sedona, who crafted the proposal, told Capitol Media Services he plans to alter the measure so that it guarantees continued additional cash to school districts to maintain that $2,500 boost.
That still leaves another problem: The price tag. Adopting the measure would take $150 million out of the state budget.
The state has a budget surplus, with some estimates putting revenue close to $1 billion above base needs.
There are, however, other demands on that cash, ranging from required increases in funding for education and health care just based on growth as well as the desire by some Republicans to spend $100 million on border security issues.
And GOP legislative leaders also are pushing for $250 million in broad across-theboard tax relief.
But O’Halleran said it’s a question of priorities. He said it is more important to ensure that teachers are paid well than to give $50 in tax relief to Arizonans.
In her State of the State address, Gov. Janet Napolitano proposed a guaranteed starting pay of $30,000 for new teachers. But that idea doesn’t seem to have enough support for consideration.