January 31, 2020

Teacher shortages, minimum wage increase straining school districts

A discussion with Pima County Schools Superintendent Dustin Williams.

Issues concerning Southern Arizona’s economy captured our attention this week. We focused on education funding, a recent minimum wage increase and affordable housing, and learned more about the challenges each pose and ways they can overlap.

Education funding remains a top priority for lawmakers at the Arizona Legislature. Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year calls for more than $600 million in new spending and $175 million to boost teacher pay by 5%. The funding for pay raises fulfills the governor’s 20 by 2020 plan that guaranteed teachers a 20% raise over three years. The plan followed a historic demonstration led by educators at the Capitol in 2018. Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams said he hoped the Legislature would find ways to continue providing raises beyond 2020.

“That’s going to be a really tough ask. The governor is adamant about not raising taxes but he is adamant about funding teachers through his plan,” Williams said. “I could see him coming up with something. I’m just not sure what it would be. Maybe another 5% or something like that would be terrific.”

Williams also discussed other budgetary strains districts face caused by complying with Arizona’s new $12 minimum wage.

“The problem is schools aren’t revenue driven. So they can’t raise the price of a cup of coffee or raise the price of their services. They’re stuck in these antiquated, outdated funding models that, unfortunately, is one of the lowest in the nation,” Williams said. “You’re still getting the exact same budget that you were getting last year. How do you account for those extra dollars that you have to pay those people?”

Arizona 360
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