West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona have all been mired in a teacher pay debate. But amid the coordinated protests and teacher walkouts, one question is rarely asked: Who is really responsible for teacher pay?
In a new article, Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy Matthew Simon explains that though fingers are pointed at state legislatures with calls for higher teacher salaries, the reality is that in many cases, locally elected school district governing boards are responsible for the size of paychecks. Arizona is a case in point:
“The debate over teacher pay reached new heights in Arizona when the Legislature passed a 2.12 percent teacher pay increase over two years on top of all of the other funding put into schools in 2017. This pay raise was outside the norm and is not how schools are funded in Arizona. It created cumbersome language to ensure that the dollars went to the intended recipient. Not only was this just bad policy because the state doesn’t fund teachers (it funds students), but also because it reinforced this idea that state lawmakers dictate what teachers’ salaries are.
“What is far too often left out of the conversation are locally elected school district governing boards. These independently elected governing boards wield considerable power in their positions by creating policies, crafting school district budgets and setting teacher pay.”
Take the Tempe and Alhambra school districts in Arizona as an example of how local decisions can have a huge impact on teachers’ paychecks. Simon’s analysis shows that while both districts serve a similar number of students in similar settings, Tempe received 25 percent more per pupil than AESD yet paid its teachers almost 30 percent less, on average. And in comparing Arizona’s Gilbert Unified School District with Paradise Valley Unified School District, Gilbert received 16.9 percent less per pupil than Paradise Valley, but it was able to pay its teachers 5.5 percent more. You can read more of his analysis here.
Notwithstanding those facts, teachers in Arizona have launched their demands at legislators in a well-coordinated campaign. Teachers in one school district shut down nine schools in a coordinated “sickout,” and more are purportedly planned to come. Simon says they should reconsider where to direct their protests.
“If Arizona teachers and the public have a gripe with elected officials, the elected officials they should be targeting with this anger need to be their locally elected school district governing boards. The comparisons make it clear: It’s about how those dollars are spent. When a school district governing board prioritizes teacher pay, teacher pay is higher.
“These teachers and the public should be attending their local school district governing board meetings, examining their budgets, and holding them accountable.”
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