Would $60,000 convince Arizona teachers to stay?




Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know Arizona teachers are struggling.

Our educators are some of the lowest paid in the nation. Even after a recent round of pay raises, elementary teacher pay still ranks 49th nationally, which is the same ranking prior to #RedForEd.

The pay is so dismal that we’re in our fifth consecutive year of a massive teacher shortage crisis, one that has left more than 1,400 classrooms without a full-time teacher and thousands more led by untrained teachers.

The question isn’t if our teachers and support staff need pay raises but rather how much of a salary bump is needed to keep them in the classroom.

Our neighboring state, Utah, just might have the answer. 

Like Arizona, Utah is struggling to retain its teachers. Unlike Arizona, they have a Republican governor who wants to do something about it.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has publicly called for teacher pay raises and supported a group of leaders working to determine how big of an increase is needed to keep teachers in the classroom.

The answer?

Raising the starting salary to $60,000. 

The group settled on $60,000 after interviews with teachers who left the profession early, as well as college students who considered majoring in education.

Unsurprisingly, $60,000 is also what’s considered a livable wage for families in Utah.

Here in Arizona, the average starting salary for district teachers in the 2018-19 school year was $36,299, according to information provided by the Arizona Education Association.

That’s a far cry from what the Utah study determined as optimal.

Even when accounting for all teachers, including those who’ve been in the classroom for decades or those with advanced degrees or certifications, Arizona’s average teacher pay is far short of $60,000, with most schools this academic year paying in the $40,000-$50,000 range.

It’s no wonder so many college students are opting out of an education degree. Why accumulate tens of thousands in student loan debt for a degree that doesn’t pay a livable wage and offers few options to advance?

In Utah, community leaders have seen the light and now have a goal to work toward. In Arizona? Not so much.

Here, our GOP-controlled Legislature seems more interested in punishing the teachers who participated in #REDforED than in understanding the economic forces that led to a walkout or working to ensure there is no need for it to happen again.

Same goes for Gov. Doug Ducey. He’s far too busy throwing Trump-inspired temper tantrums over a judge who chastised him for not following the law than he is in understanding the basic principles of supply and demand.

It’s possible Arizona doesn’t need to raise starting salaries to $60,000 to keep and retain high quality teachers.

Many of the educators I’ve spoken with over the past few years have said they’d accept lower pay if they had access to more support staff and smaller classroom sizes. Considering our state has the highest student-to-teacher ratios in the nation, that request seems more than reasonable.

But to date, no one in this state has conducted a study to see what the magic salary number is, or what combination of other factors would specifically address our teacher shortage crisis.

Our students will continue to fall behind nationally and regionally because we are now the outlier. Utah isn’t the only state making teacher pay a priority.

New Mexico recently boosted pay for new teachers to $41,000 while increasing pay for teachers with additional certifications to $50,000 and $60,000.

Idaho followed suit, increasing all of the pay levels on its “career ladder” so that $40,000 was the lowest pay possible. Compare that to Arizona, where some schools start teachers below $30,000, and it’s easy to understand why our teacher shortage persists. 

So, how do we resolve this crisis? Is $60,000 the magic number? Or is it a combination of factors such as higher pay scales combined with lower class sizes?

We’ll never know until we have leaders with the courage to ask the questions and the will to implement the answers. 

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Julie Erfle hails from North Dakota, but has called Arizona home for more than twenty years. She began her career in Phoenix as a creative services producer at KPHO-TV5 and 3TV. Blending her background in communications with her passion for community activism, Julie launched the political blog Politics Uncuffed in 2011, and began working as a communications director and consultant on candidate and initiative campaigns. She is the former executive director of Progress Now Arizona, a progressive communications and advocacy non-profit, and a fellow with the Flinn-Brown Arizona Center for Civic Leadership and Leading for Change.

9 COMMENTS

  1. The average teacher pay in the US is just over $60,000. I have met with Senate President Karen Fann, a long time personal friend and have discussed the matter of education funding with her. We have talked about teacher pay, classroom support, class sizes, guidance counsellors, facility condition and a variety of related matters. She has asked me, “How do we pay for that?” The only reasonable and rational response is to raise taxes. She asked, “What taxes” I replied the income tax. That is the tax that has been regularly (and IMHO irresponsibility) cut. She replied that a proposal to raise taxes would be DOA with the Gov and the Legislature. The only thing that we, the people, can do, is to keep pushing and perhaps another citizens initiative.
    To quote our President…..”SAD!”

  2. Our “esteemed” governor Ducey is a trump minion and will follow him in whatever he does.
    Trump “loves the uneducated” so, it seems, does Ducey.
    I taught in AZ for 5 years and quit because I could make more money in another job. Until Arizona citizens realize that as long as we have a Republican held state we will not advance in anything.

    • So, your answer is to cut the Corrections Budget which will require the release of hundreds or thousands of felons on our streets where they will prey on the most vulnerable – the young and the elderly. That should make for a more wholesome society – NOT.

  3. You should educate yourself on the real reason why teacher salaries are at their current level. Read the Auditor General Dollars to the Classroom reports beginning in 2001 and you will find the factual answer. Each one of the first 17 years, the Auditor General has reported a reduction in the Dollars to the Classroom. District school administrators, in coordination with the local school boards they control, have reduced the percentage to the only budget line item that funds teacher salaries for each of those seventeen consecutive years.

    In my school district, those redistribution of dollars away from the teacher salaries and benefits amounts to over $3,000,000.00 annually (20% of the total revenues), while the school press flack puts out press releases bemoaning the low teacher salaries. Across the state, district school districts have redirected teacher salary and benefits away from the classroom to the tune of billions of dollars annually.

    An easy solution would be for the legislature to return to the traditional appropriations process that designated specific dollars to each budget item. Only then can the legislature be held accountable for teacher salary levels.

  4. I dont know what will happen this year– but I truly believe that the house (and maybe the Senate too) will turn over to a slim majority Democrat) If the Republicans want to avoid that they better take a huge chunk from our Corrections Budget and put it in education– because I believe Arizonans are sick of being at the bottom of the education barrel.

    • So, your answer is to cut the Corrections Budget which will require the release of hundreds or thousands of felons on our streets where they will prey on the most vulnerable – the young and the elderly. That should make for a more wholesome society – NOT.

  5. Angelo, The fact is that the states that have the highest funding for education, including New York and California are now seeing the lowest levels of student achievement. More money is not the answer, proper instruction curriculum and classroom discipline is the only provable solution

  6. another choice is to remove some of the corporate tax credits and return to a more equitable system; their tax rate is 4.9%. however, the average tax for an AZ corporation is a mere $50, as they have myriad exemptions and tax credits. education funding has suffered for 20 years because of this!

  7. $30 PER HOUR FOR A FULL TIME JOB. 180 DAYS THAT IS HOW MANY DAYS TEACHERS ARE TEACHING YOUR KIDS PER YEAR. OFF OVER 1/2 THE YEAR. THATS A TEACHER AND ALL GRADES IN NO WAY DESERVE THE SAME PAY JUST LIKE ALL DISTRICTS. SOCIALIST GO HOME YOU ALL KNOW THE PROBLEM IS 150% MORE TO TEACH KIDS STARTING SCHOOL THAT DO NOT SPEAEK English! Fix Immigration or put the burden of the parents not preparing their kids to go to school. And yes learn English too. Part of the rules to become a Citizen.

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