Arizona House Committee Approves Bill to Increase Teacher Pay, Several Democrats Oppose It

Freshman Arizona State Representative Matt Gress (R-Phoenix) Announced his bill, House Bill (HB) 2800, passed through the House Committee on Appropriations meeting Monday, despite pushback from Democrat members.

“I will continue fighting for Arizona teachers. Arizonans want us to work together, finding solutions and common ground. Last night, my Democratic colleagues put partisan politics FIRST, and doing the right thing for AZ teachers and schools LAST,” Gress tweeted.

Dubbed the “Pay Teachers First Plan,” Gress’s bill would directly increase the pay for state teachers in increments. Beginning in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024, all public schools must increase the income for eligible classroom teachers by $5,000 above the FY2023 base salary. Then, in FY2025, double that increase to $10,000 above the base salary. Eligible teachers are those employed for “a full school day or class load” or equivalent and spend more than 50 percent of their time teaching in the classroom. Gress also emphasized that special needs teachers would be eligible for the pay increase. However, the bill would not increase pay for other school staff, such as counselors or bus drivers.

As for how the schools will afford to increase the teacher salary, the bill covers that by establishing the “pay teachers first fund” (PTFF). The fund would include legislative appropriations from the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). The ADE would also be required to provide the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) with an annual estimation of the funds needed to give the proper allocations.

For the PTFF, the bill stipulates that in FY2024, the legislature would provide $400,000,000 from the state general fund. Then in FY2025, the legislature would provide $700 million, which would “be considered ongoing funding in future years.” The funding must be used specifically for paying salaries or up to fifty percent of employee-related expenses, like social security.

Moreover, to ensure that schools are using these allocated funds for the intended purpose, Gress included some accountability measures. For example, in FY2024, when public schools submit their budgets, they must include the salary schedules for all eligible teachers without the increase, plus a revised version of the schedule that does.

Furthermore, this bill has an enactment condition, HB 2537, sponsored by State Representative Beverly Pingerelli (R-Peoria), also be enacted. The bill states that the school finance transparency portal must be updated to include the number of full-time positions at every individual school, the average salary of all full-time employees, and the school district and charter school’s proposed budgets, including revisions and amendments.

However, when it came time to vote, Democrat members shared concerns. State Representative Judy Schwiebert (D-Phoenix) stated that this bill would put schools at the mercy of the legislature to lift the aggregate expenditure limit every year; otherwise, schools would be stuck paying higher salaries without government funding to cover the expenses. Additionally, State Representative Nancy Gutierrez (D-Tucson) echoed Schwiebert’s concerns and voted no, sharing additional concerns that it leaves out other school staff that also deserve a raise.

Ultimately, the bills passed by a ten to five-vote, with one Democrat joining in favor. Gress described the room as a “bizarro world” where Republicans supported giving more money to schools while Democrats opposed the motion.

“Why [did Democrats oppose]? It is bizarre to say the least. However, clearly some on the left want nothing more than to use teachers as a political football. They don’t want to *solve* this issue — they want to campaign on it. As a former teacher myself, I find that appalling,” Gress tweeted.

HB 2800 will need to find favor on the House floor next to continue forward.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Matt Gress” by Matt Gress.


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One Thought to “Arizona House Committee Approves Bill to Increase Teacher Pay, Several Democrats Oppose It”

  1. Joe Blow

    What an excellent method for buying votes from a sizeable voter block. I say that teachers should EARN pay increases for high performance.