PHOENIX — You can't miss the billboard ad along I-17: "Become a Teacher in Dallas, Texas."
Paid for by the Dallas Independent School District, it's offering salaries up to $102,000. Arizona school districts can't compete with that kind of money for teacher pay, but districts do have to find teachers. In the Cartwright School District in west Phoenix, that means expanding its pool of applicants to fill an estimated 80 teaching positions.
"We're still looking forward, recruiting some newly graduated teachers here and hoping to recruit some teachers from other states. But yes, we don't want to start the year with empty classrooms so we're looking abroad," said Ema Jauregui, the Deputy Superintendent of Education and Family Services for the Cartwright Elementary School District.
Cartwright is hardly alone in its search for teachers, but it may be the only district actively seeking them from foreign countries. Across Arizona, nearly every school district is raising concerns about having enough teachers to fill classrooms when school starts in August.
"It's been a supply and demand issue again for at least eight years in Arizona and the supply is getting lower and lower each year," said Justin Wing, Data Analyst for the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association. ASPAA represents school district human resource managers at district and charter schools.
Arizona is at or near the bottom in teacher pay nationally.
"I'm going to be honest," Emi Jauregui said. "This year we had a lot of people leave us because their rents have gone up."
Jauregui said Cartwright is feeling the impact of low teacher salaries. Young teachers, the ones who just graduated into the workforce, are having a rude awakening.
"We've had a lot of our teachers move back home to move in with their parents. So, money has been an issue with us."
Even with a projected $5 billion budget surplus, the Republican-controlled state legislature has so far not been willing to allocate money to make teacher salaries more competitive.
"Dallas, Texas is advertising 'Become a teacher,' in Dallas," Justin Wing said. "The question is, are they doing that in Minnesota? Are they doing that in New York? Unlikely. Why are they targeting Arizona? I'll tell you why — because they know we're 49th in teacher pay."
At the start of the 2021 school year, the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association reported there were 1,800 classrooms without a teacher in Arizona. Based on what the ASPAA is hearing now, it's going to get worse.