PHOENIX — A year ago today, an estimated 5,000 teachers came to the Capitol with five demands. Teachers wanted the Governor and lawmakers to give them a substantial pay raise, restore education funding to 2008 levels, improve technology and update textbooks, lower class sizes and do something about the large numbers of teachers leaving the classroom for a better paying job elsewhere.
Not much has changed since then, Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said at the capitol Thursday.
"While we made a small dent in the teacher crisis, we still have 7,500 classrooms that don't have a teacher at the end of every school year," Thomas said.
The governor's office takes issue with Thomas' characterization of how the state has approached education since last spring.
"We will never stop fighting for education. The governor has heard from students, parents, teachers principles, superintendents and education organizations from around the state on how Arizona can continue to invest in our K-12 classrooms," Patrick Ptak, a spokesperson for Governor Ducey, said.
The 2020 budget proposal invests $637 million in new dollars for K-12 education, including $164.8 million dedicated to teacher pay raises as part of the 20% by 2020 plan that was part of the deal to end last year's walkout.
There's also $138 million for new school construction and $21 million to expand the Arizona Teachers Academy.
"We are excited to partner together to get this budget over the finish line," Ptak said.
Joe Thomas, the teacher's union president, says the legislature and governor's office need to do more to address the demands from a year ago, particularly returning classroom funding to levels from before the 2008 recession.
"Educators expect to see the Governor and the legislature talking about increased revenue, increased taxes that voters will support, that goes directly into classrooms to address these needs," Thomas said.
Governor Ducey says he will not support any tax increase this session and it may be difficult to find enough new education dollars beyond what the Governor proposes to spend in 2020 coming from the legislature.
So what will the teacher do if the best offer is what is already on the table?
"We need to provide the schools students deserve. We need to end the teacher crisis," Thomas says. "If the legislature and the 9th floor of the Governor's tower fail to act, teachers will have no other choice but to take matters in their own hands and act again."