April 12 (UPI) -- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced a a new education funding proposal Thursday as teachers in the state held demonstrations for higher pay.
Ducey released a statement promising teachers 9 percent pay raises this year as part of a "net pay increase" of 20 percent by 2020.
"Arizona teachers are the biggest difference-makers in the lives of Arizona's children, and we need to reward them for their hard work -- this plan does that through a 20 percent pay increase by school year 2020," Ducey said. "We are also making significant investments in Arizona classrooms in a responsible and sustainable way. We will never stop our commitment to improving Arizona's public education system because when it comes to our kids, we must never stop working for them."
Elementary teachers earned a median wage of $43,280 in 2017 and high school teachers earned $46,470, ranking 3rd and 6th lowest in the nation, respectively, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The average American teacher made $58,950 during the 2016-17 school year, a 1.6 percent decrease from a decade and a half previous, when they made $59,944 when adjusted for inflation.
The 9 percent raise will bring the median teacher salary in Arizona to $52,725 this fall and 5 percent increases the next two years, combined with 1 percent increase teachers were given last year will bring the average salary to $58,130 in 2020, Ducey said.
Ducey's plan comes after educators protested for weeks and threatened a walkout in pursuit of 20 percent raises next year and restoration of about $1 billion in overall school funding that was cut during the recession.
"I've been listening and I've been impressed," the governor said. "The winners today are the teachers of Arizona."
Ducey said the 9 percent raises, which will cost $274 million, are a "priority" in his budget proposal.
Prior to the announcement, Tuscon teacher and Arizona Educators United organizer Derek Harris told teachers "that we need to be sure that this is not just a pay [increase] for teachers."
"If [Ducey's proposal] is just a pay raise for teachers, that is not gonna cut it because we have a whole other slew of people who make our schools operate every day that we need to take care of, too," Harris said.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard provided an alternative plan that would redistribute money from school buildings and upkeep and direct it to teacher salaries, resulting in a 6 percent raise next year.
The proposal would see salaries increase over five years, culminating in a 24 percent raise.
President and CEO of the Children's Action Alliance Dana Wolfe Naimark dismissed the plan as a "shell game."
"Teachers, parents, and leaders across this state understand that many dollars put into school budgets can NOT be spent on teacher pay when school buses are broken down, health insurance and utility costs are going up, class sizes are growing, roofs are leaking, students are missing classroom aids and counselors, and textbooks are 15 years old," Naimark said.