Arizona’s top education official is making the case for higher taxes in order to adequately pay the state’s teachers, contradicting Gov. Doug Ducey’s claim that such action is not necessary.
State Superintendent Diane Douglas says that while test scores are improving among students, they may not remain positive if schools aren’t staffed with quality teachers.
“We need great teachers… who are not just well-prepared in their craft but also well-prepared in their content,” Douglas says.
The challenge of attracting teachers to work in public schools in Arizona when they are going to receive one the worst teacher salaries in the country is an issue Douglas plans to focus on, but believe it won’t change in the current environment.
Douglas has proposed a few ideas on some new streams of revenue. Though in the past she has opposed the use of a sales tax, the superintendent is in favor of renewing Prop 301, an education sales tax that is set to expire in 2020. Douglas also wants to implement an excise tax which has shown to be successful in other states.
Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona "Horizon," state schools Chief Dianne Douglas joins us to talk about why she supports a tax hike to get more money to teachers. Also tonight we’ll hear about a program that supports future teachers while still in school. And we will ask Attorney General Mark Brnovich about the new report on university cost and that impact this lawsuit over the cost of tuition. Those stories next on Arizona "Horizon."
Video: Arizona "Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS members of your PBS station. Thank you.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon I am Ted Simons. The White House today released an outline of president trumps immigration reform ideas the plan includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million younger immigrants living in the U.S. illegally the plan would also scale back family based migration. Eliminate the visa lottery program and call for 25 billion dollars for a border wall. Democrats on Capitol Hill say they’re encouraged by the frame work. Republicans are showing caution. The Arizona republican reports a draft of the state Republican Party resolution calls on Joe Arpaio to drop out of the U.S. senate race. Arpaio is running against Congresswomen Martha McSally and former state senator Kelly Ward through the G.O.P primary. The resolution praises Arpaio but then closes by saying quote, therefore be it resolved that the Arizona Republican Party expresses his gratitude to Sheriff Arpaio for his many years of service and respectfully urges him to exit the race for U.S. Senator from Arizona. Republic reports after Arpaio read the draft he considered it a great resume of his accomplishments and wondered why the party didn’t ask the other candidates to drop out. Thousands of veterans are taking part in stand down Arizona today and tomorrow. More than 70 service providers are on sight at the veteran’s memorial coliseum offering homeless veterans everything from health and dental care to court services. The Maricopa County stand down is the largest in the nation with almost 2000 veterans expected during the 2 day event. Super intendent republican suction Dianne Douglas gave her annual state of the education address earlier this week. The speech included a call for an increase in Arizona education sales tax. Here now with more with is state school Chief Dianne Douglas. Great to see you.
Diane Douglas: Great to be back Ted, thank you.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about the state of Arizona education. What do we got out there? What are you seeing?
Diane Douglas: What I am seeing is we are improving. Even though I have admitted for a long time I am no fan of the AZ merit test none the less our children's test scores are improving. So that is a good sign.
Ted Simons: Ted: Why do you think that is it?
I credited our teachers and parents for that. The work they do with the children each and every single day and yet 1 out of teaching vacancies are still not filled. That has to concern you?
Diane Douglas: Absolutely. We need great teachers in our classrooms with our children that are not just well prepared in their craft but also well prepared in their content. So we need them in there. We know what at least a part of the issue is. It might not be all the answer but part of it is what we paying our teachers.
Ted Simons: Elementary school salaries last in the country. High school salaries 48th in the country. Can you change that in the current funding environment?
Diane Douglas: I don't believe we can. That is one of the things that has become somewhat apparent to me. And as I’ve traveled the state, north, south, east, west however you want to describe our state, urban, rural, liberal, conservative, overwhelmingly people have said they want their teachers better paid. Our cost of living is not at the bottom in the nation. So our teachers, in my opinion, don't deserve to be down there but the reality is if you look at last year's budget if I remember the numbers correctly we have over a $9 billion budget. $9.35 but once we take care of the ongoing expenses there is not much new money left. So my contention is we need to look at different revenue streams.
Ted Simons: Prop 301 is the education tax it expires at the end of 2020. There is much talk of extending that six tenth of a cent. You are talking about extending and adding at least another four tenth to at least a cent. Talk to us about that.
Diane Douglas: To a cent. I would like to add .4 tenth of a cent. That would have to be referred to the voters. I will be quite honest with you I hate sales taxes. I think they hurt the people we say we most want to help and that is our lower income people. But the reality is that is the mechanism that we readily have available to us right now. That is the direction we have chosen almost 20 years ago. We need to get new revenue into our systems. We are looking at if this were to be referred to the voters and to be approved by these voters it would raise another $300 million I recommend for teacher salary and give them an 11% raise. $5,000. Groceries for a family of four for a year that would be a nice help for them. The other $100 million we are looking at putting toward school facilities although now the government came out with a plan for that, that we hope will help.
Ted Simons: Speaking of the governor we talked to him a week or so ago and he said it sounds like he is okay with extending the tax as it is. Doesn't sound like he’s all that hot fire and excited about adding to it. How do you convince him that this is needed?
Diane Douglas: I think we keep talking about it and keep the dialogue alive. I am not married to it has to be the prop 301 and it has to be an increase in sales tax. I think we need to talk about new revenue streams. How do we get more money into our education system?
Ted Simons: Give me an example of a new revenue stream that would not include prop 301?
Diane Douglas: I have heard a discussion about an excise tax and there is a lot to be developed. It would take a long time to get something like that in our system but looking at it as far as natural resources. We are a producer of energy here in Arizona. We sell it to many other states and yet our state gains no value from that. We know other states are doing it, Texas uses excise tax and I believe North Dakota does, too. The Federal Government could give us back our land too that would help.
Ted Simons: We don't have time to go into that. Sounds like the governor isn't in a rush for this he wants to get a coalition together, he wants to make sure it is done correctly and he wants to make sure that all aspects are prim and proper before it is put on the ballot for voters and that means not this years that means 2020 and that means you got really only one shot at it. You like that idea?
Diane Douglas: I am a little concern about that idea. Senator Brophy McGee and representative Coleman have both dropped bills this year to ask the legislature to consider sending it out to the ballot for the original six tenth of a cent and that would give our schools and our district at least some security that that original piece of it they can count on that. And then we can have the ongoing debate about whether we increase it or not or do we find another way to do it.
Ted Simons: How much impact do you have in terms of the legislature pushing your ideas? And in terms of the governor letting them know this is what with you think is important for the state?
Well, I share those ideas everywhere I can get a bully pulpit to share them. And our staffs work very closely together so I am optimistic.
Ted Simons: Well you’re optimistic some folks say you haven't pushed hard enough on things like funding, vouchers, tax credits and things that might be siphoning money out of the system right now. They want to see you do more. Do they have a valid point there?
Diane Douglas: I have to uphold the laws of the state and the ones that have been put in place. You know, I do what I can do.
Ted Simons: You mentioned $100 million in school capitol and funds. You think that is a good idea?
Diane Douglas: We have to have that replaced. When I was on the school board not too long ago, but a while ago, we received that type of funding. Capital funding to maintain our schools and now it is converted to a system where it is more of a grant-type process because of the lack of funding. We now have to decide whether your roof is leaking worse than my air conditioner is broken and that is not a position I feel our schools to be in.
Ted Simons: One more thing regarding the governor and legislature have made it easier to teach. Your thoughts on getting the idea of getting more people in the classrooms without so many hoops and hurdles.
Diane Douglas: My goal in the department has always been to make the procedural process as easy as possible. Ted, you know, you don't have to fill out five forms or 10 forms. You can do that online. We have offices in other parts of the state to try to make that easier but lowering the standards of the profession absolutely not. We have to make sure our teachers, in my opinion, are well-trained in their content knowledge and in their classroom skills.
Ted Simons: Do you believe recent law has lowered those standards?
I believe very much it has.
Ted Simons: What are you going to do about that?
Diane Douglas: Unfortunately, right now that is the law of the land and I have to uphold the laws whether I like them or not.
Ted Simons: Back to the criticism before we go -- you got the bully pulpit. People want to see you do more stuff like that.
Diane Douglas: Ted, I am talking about those things all the time. This media may chose not to cover it. It is not my fault. That is why I always appreciate being here.
Ted Simons: Well, we always like having you here as well. It is good seeing you.
Diane Douglas: It is a pleasure, thank you.
Ted Simons: And coming up on Arizona Horizon we will take a look at a program that helps aspiring teachers before they get into the classroom.
Diane Douglas: Superintendent of Public Instruction