by Jonathan Butcher
In April, Arizona administrators and teachers held an illegal strike and called on state lawmakers to increase spending for K-12 public schools. In response, Gov. Doug Ducey and state legislators passed a budget that included funding for a 20 percent raise for every teacher by 2020 (known by the hashtag “#20×2020”).
Now that teachers and students have started the 2018-2019 school year, a new Goldwater Institute report offers a look at what’s in store this fall for Arizona teachers, taxpayers, and families.
Teacher raises will vary.
It’s too soon to tell if school districts will actually give every teacher a 20 percent raise by 2020. While some districts are well on their way to 20 percent raises, others have started slowly. For example, Yuma teachers should expect a 17 percent raise in FY 2019. Chinle teachers can expect a 7 percent increase. One district—Tucson Unified—said that not all of the new spending would be applied to teacher raises, creating uncertainty about how much will be left for district teachers after the money is budgeted for other spending categories.
Special interest groups still demand more money for school districts.
Teacher union and other special interest group campaigns for more spending on districts did not begin or end with the 2018 strikes. In fact, special interests have rallied behind a campaign to increase spending on schools by imposing a drastic increase in the income tax rate for Arizonans making $250,000 or more ($500,000 for married couples).
Meanwhile, national teacher unions continue to support strikes by administrators and teachers. Earlier this year, delegates at the National Education Association voted to create a fund to support striking teachers. This is a serious concern in a state like Arizona, where teacher strikes are against the law.
Your taxes may go up.
The ballot measure that would raise income taxes has been cleverly billed as a tax on the wealthy. But all Arizona taxpayers would feel the increase because the measure actually changes the tax brackets for individuals earning less than $250,000 back to 2014 levels. Arizona legislative analysts explain, “These brackets had been indexed for inflation since that time, which reduced tax liability. As a result, reinstating the 2014 brackets would increase General Fund revenue collections” (in other words, your taxes will go up even if you make less than $250,000 per year).
Will students do better in school if spending increases? No guarantee.
For years, research has demonstrated an inconsistent relationship between student outcomes and education spending, and recent results do not link spending and student success any closer. Arizona district and charter school students have seen test scores improve in recent years, even as year-over-year spending decreased. Arizona students showed statistically significant gains in math and reading from 2009 to 2017 in both fourth and eighth grade.
Notably, recent surveys demonstrate families that choose a school for their child consider more than test scores. Parent surveys in Georgia and Indiana find that parents that choose their child’s school are interested in the school’s mission, discipline policies, and the quality of the “learning environment,” to name a few, more than they are interested in test scores.
Instead of relying on more spending to improve schools, taxpayers and families should tell lawmakers to make student-centered changes to the spending formula. Arizona’s education savings accounts provide a model. With an account, the state deposits a portion of its funding for a child’s education into a private account that parents can use to buy education products and services for their child as they choose. Currently, families seeking private learning options—from personal tutors and education therapists to private schools—are taking advantage of these new options, but the same idea could be used to simplify state and district spending, too.
All parents could opt to use an account when their child enters kindergarten and use the funds to choose a district, charter, or private school or customize their student’s education with classes and materials that meet the child’s needs. Our new report offers more ways to make better use of school district spending for teachers and students (you can read the full report here).
More state spending on K-12 public schools does not always lead to teacher pay increases or improved student performance. Lawmakers should consider more than just spending increases to give every Arizona child the chance to succeed.
Jonathan Butcher is a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute.