Teachers say pay is to blame for Arizona teacher exodus

Posted at 6:38 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-06 00:21:09-04

An Arizona teacher is leaving the classroom as a Social Studies teacher to work as a security guard in another state. The reason: more money.

Jon Knapp, a middle school teacher in Peoria, tells ABC15 that he has handed in his resignation because his average salary of $40,000 a year is not sustainable.

“Pay’s not going up, there’s no support from the state or even local governments that make me think it’s going to get better any time soon,” he said.

Knapp has enough to get by, but making ends meet to pay bills and have enough for groceries can be hard.

Says he's making ends meet by staying in a one bedroom apartment with a roommate, sleeping on a futon.

The low pay is a driving force to him leaving the classroom, although he didn’t want to leave the students he’s taught.

“I thought about leaving last year, I changed my mind, I just couldn’t do it, I wanted to be with my kids," he said.

He’s not alone — Susan Collins, a music teacher in Kingman said leaving the classroom doesn’t feel right in her heart, but also the pay is not enough for her single income household.

Collins has a Master’s Degree and has been teaching music classes for 30 years.

“That’s where my heart is but the financial responsibilities that I have as a single income earner for my household have weighed really heavily on me.”

It’s unclear right now how many teachers across the state will leave the classrooms as many districts still have contracts out.

The Dysart Unified School District has more teachers leaving this school year with around 9% of their certified staff (teachers) not renewing their contracts.

Out of 1,220 teacher contracts, 106 contracts were not submitted for 2022-2023.

That’s compared to 1,165 teacher contracts offered for 2021-2022, when 67 were not submitted.

This means the retention rate has gone from 94.2% to 91.3%.

"We are extremely proud of our retention rate, and although we had slightly more movement in positions this year, it is in line with what job markets are seeing across the country right now. Currently we have 52 teacher openings for the 2022-2023 school year, and we are in a good position to have them all filled prior to the start of school,” a spokesperson for the district said.

In the Mesa Public Schools district, which employs 9,000, 5% of their employees are leaving.

In total: 368 teachers are leaving their positions, and 114 support staff are leaving their positions.

The Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association found in January that 31% of teacher vacancies remain unfilled and 47.7% of vacancies are filled by teachers who don’t meet the state’s standard certification requirements.

They also found that qualified teachers in certain subjects are at crisis levels: special education, math and science.

The Department of Education told ABC15 that the number of teachers and support staff leaving the classroom is unclear as they don’t have any kind of data tracking to indicate how many before the end of the year.

State Senator TJ Shope was on a school board in Coolidge for 12 years.

“I don’t know that this year is going to be any better or worse, we obviously don’t have figures on the percentage of people who have signed or resigned contracts to go back to their school district or charter,” he said.

Republicans have the majority in the Senate, and are working on budget talks.

“The formula spending will increase, that has been shown in the baseline of the budget,” he said. “My belief is that we will be putting some additional dollars into that, what that number is, I’m not sure at this point in time.”

With a $5.3 billion surplus in the state, ABC15 asked if more money is being considered for teachers or the classroom.

"I know that there are varying plans that are out there that people are putting forth, but at the end of the day we have to put forth a plan that is sustainable long term,” said Senator Shope. “Being a board member as long as I was, I always have concerns on the school districts and governing boards and putting money to where the legislative intent of those dollars go."