Over 1,000 schools close as teachers stage a walkout on Thursday


TED SIMONS: PUBLIC SCHOOL-TEACHERS ACROSS THE STATE ARE EXPECTED TO WALK OFF THE JOB TOMORROW, THIS AS LAWMAKERS CONSIDER THE GOVERNOR'S PROPOSED TEACHER PAY-HIKE. THAT'S THE FOCUS OF TONIGHT'S EDITION OF OUR WEEKLY LEGISLATIVE UPDATE. JOINING US NOW IS SENATE PRESIDENT STEVE YARBROUGH, AND SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE, J.D. MESNARD. GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE. GOOD TO HAVE YOU JOINING US. PLANNED STRIKE TOMORROW, TEACHERS WALKING OUT, CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL, DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHILE THEY ARE DOING THIS?

STEVE YARBROUGH: WE UNDERSTAND WHY THEY ARE DOING IT. THEY'LL BE OUT OF WORK AND WE'LL BE HARD AT WORK TRYING TO FIND OUT HOW TO INCREASE TEACHER PAY.

TED SIMONS: YOUR THOUGHTS ON THEM LEAVING CLASSROOMS?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I SAID ON THIS SHOW BEFORE. I THINK IT'S UNLAWFUL AND DISAPPOINTING THAT THEY WOULD DO THAT. THAT WON'T KEEP US FROM TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING.

TED SIMONS: DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY THEY ARE DOING THIS? DOES IT MAKE SENSE TO YOU?

J.D. MESNARD: I THINK THEIR TIMING IS QUESTIONABLE. THE GOVERNOR PUT OUT A 20% PAY RAISE. THEY ARE WORKING TO MAKE IT A REALITY, YET THEY ARE WALKING OUT. IT WOULD BE DIFFERENT IF WE ARE IGNORING THE ISSUE. WE WOULD PREFER THAT THEY WAIT, BUT THERE IS A GROWING SENSE THAT THIS WOULD HAPPEN ANYWAY AND THE SENSE THAT NO MATTER WHAT WE DO WON'T BE ENOUGH, BUT WE'LL DO SOMETHING BIG. WE ARE ON THE SAME PAGE ON THAT.

TED SIMONS: THE REASON THAT THE STRIKE OUT IS HAPPENING, THEY ARE SAYING IT'S NOT SUSTAINABLE, THE NUMBERS DON'T ADD UP, A, AND B, IT DOESN'T COVER EVERYONE IN THE COMMUNITY. DO THEY HAVE A POINT?

J.D. MESNARD: WE HAVE ALLOCATIONS THAT CAN GO TO ALL SORTS OF THINGS, SUPPLIES AND OFFICIALS. AS FAR AS SUSTAINABILITY, THAT'S WHAT WE ARE WORKING ON IN THE LEGISLATURE AND WITH THE GOVERNOR. IT'S HOW THE ECONOMY IS DOING, HOW WE THINK IT WILL DO. IT'S DOING WELL NOW. THE 9% ADDED TO THE 10% ESSENTIALLY THIS YEAR, I THINK IT'S A GIVEN TO BE HONEST WITH YOU. WE ARE WORKING WITH THE OUT YEARS AND GETTING CLOSE TO 20%. WHATEVER WE DO, WE'LL DO BECAUSE WE THINK IT'S REAL AND THE TEACHER PAY WILL MATERIALIZE AS A RESULT.

TED SIMONS: IF THIS INCLUDES CUTTING ADDITIONAL FUNDING FOR DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED, ARTS FUNDING, CRITICAL ACCESS HOSPITALS, TAKING ADDITIONAL FUNDING FROM THERE TO PAY FOR THIS. THAT'S A BONE OF CONTENTION FOR THE TEACHERS. THEY ARE NOT HAPPY ABOUT THAT.

STEVE YARBROUGH: WE UNDERSTAND THAT. NEITHER WOULD WE BE HAPPY ABOUT THAT EITHER, BUT WE ARE GOING TO DO THE BEST FOR ALL OF THOSE THINGS YOU MENTIONED AND A NUMBER OF OTHERS. THAT'S WHY THIS IS A COMPLICATED AND CHALLENGING PROCESS. YOU CAN'T JUST PUT THIS TOGETHER HALF-HAZARDLY. I WAS TELLING SOMEONE TODAY THERE ARE LIKE 600 LINES IN THE BUDGET. EVERY ONE OF THOSE INVOLVES A DECISION THAT HAS TO BE MADE. WE'LL TRY TO GET IT RIGHT.

TED SIMONS: DOES THAT INCLUDE RETURNING MONEY THAT HAD BEEN CUT IN PREVIOUS YEARS, ONE OF THE DEMANDS BY TEACHERS. DOES IT INCLUDE PAYING FOLKS IN THE EDUCATION COMMUNITY ALONG WITH TEACHERS? THAT'S ANOTHER DEMAND.

STEVE YARBROUGH: AND THE DEMANDS KEEP CHANGING AS TIME GOES ALONG. THEY ARE SURPRISED THAT THE GOVERNOR SAID THEY WOULD DO THE 20%. THOSE OTHER FOLKS, THEY HAVE THE CAPACITY TO BE PAID FROM OTHER SOURCES AS WELL. THE ADDITIONAL ASSISTANCE CAN BE USED TO SOME EXTENT. THERE ARE DEMANDS, GREAT NEEDS, BUT IT'S NOT THE ONLY SOURCE.

TED SIMONS: I HAVE SEEN NUMBERS UP DOWN AND SIDEWAYS HERE. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF BUDGET DEFICIT NUMBERS. YOU COULD BE LOOKING AT 20 ODD MILLION IF THE PROPOSAL AS IT STANDS GOES THROUGH. THAT DOESN'T SOUND SUSTAINABLE.

J.D. MESNARD: IN THE DISCUSSIONS WITH THE GOVERNOR, WE HAVE GONE THROUGH A LOT OF THAT. I CAN SAY WHERE WE ARE LOOKING TO GO IS NOT IN THE NEGATIVE, AND IS GOING IS TO BE SOMETHING AT LEAST CLOSE TO 20%, 15 TO 20%, LET'S SAY. IT WILL BE SUBSTANTIAL. I WANT TO MAKE THE POINT THAT WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL OF THE PEOPLE. THE MORE FOLKS BRING IT UP AND BLAME THE LEGISLATURE, YOU HAVE LEGISLATORS LOOK AT THINGS WE DON'T WANT THEM TO DO, TAKE OVER SALARY SCHEDULES FOR TEACHERS. RIGHT NOW THERE IS A TEACHER CRISIS, TEACHER SHORTAGE. YOU ARE NOT THE SAME IN OTHER AREAS. I AM NOT SAYING THEY ARE WITHOUT VALUE, BUT THEY ARE THEY ARE PART OF THE EDUCATIONS SYSTEM. TEACHERS AND TEACHER PAY HAS TO BE THE PRIORITY.

TED SIMONS: PRIORITY, BUT BOOKS WITH GEOGE BUSH AS PRESIDENT CRUMBLING, THINGS LIKE THAT TEACHERS SAY THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO GET IT ADDRESSED.

STEVE YARBROUGH: I DON'T KNOW TED THAT IT'S THE ONLY WAY. WE ARE GIVING THE BOARD DISTRICTS POWER TO MAKE THE DECISIONS TO ULTIMATELY DETERMINE WHAT THE PAY RAISES ARE AND HOW THEY ARE DISTRIBUTED.
TED SIMONS: SO IT IS GOING STRAIGHT TO THE BORDS?

STEVE YARBROUGH: YES.

TED SIMONS: SO NO MICROMANAGING FROM THE CAPITOL?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I HOPE NOT.

TED SIMONS: REPRESENTATIVE HAMEL, THREE YEAR TAX INCREASE, EDUCATION 100% ONLY. WE SAW SOMETHING SIMILAR IN 2010 THAT PASSED IF IT'S A THREE YEAR DEAL, IF IT'S DEDICATED TO EDUCATION. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS THERE?

STEVE YARBROUGH:MY FRIENDS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AISLE, DEMOCRATS CAME OUT WITHOUT SALES TAX. PREVIOUSLY THEY WERE SUPPORTING THE IDEA. I'M NOT SURE WHAT TO MAKE ABOUT THE ABOUT FACE THERE. MY RECOMMENDATION WOULD BE, LET'S SEE WHAT WE CAN DO WITH THE BUDGET. AS I INDICATED, FISCAL YEAR '19, WHAT WE ARE BUDGETING FOR NOW, IT'S NOT AN ISSUE FORWARDING MASSIVE INCREASE IN TEACHER PAY FUNDING. NEXT YEAR, A COUPLE OF YEARS FROM NOW, IF THE ECONOMY DOES AS WELL AS IT IS EXPECTED, THERE'S NO PROBLEM.

TED SIMONS: SO A BRIDGE WOULDN'T BE NECESSARY?

J.D. MESNARD: I THINK IT'S TOO SOON IN MY OPINION. I APPRECIATE MR. CAMPBELL'S MOTIVATES. WE ARE PUTTING IN A HUNDRED MILLION FOR THE SCHOOL SUPPLIES. WE ARE CLOSING IN ON 350-ISH MILLION DOLLARS. WE HAVE TO GET IT DONE.

TED SIMONS: ANY INTEREST IN REFERRING A DEDICATED EDUCATION SALES TAX TO THE BALLOT?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I DON'T THINK IT HAS TRACTION AT THIS POINT IN TIME.

TED SIMONS: HOW COME?

STEVE YARBROUGH: IT'S A TAX INCREASE. IT WOULD BE THE VOTERS ULTIMATELY DECIDING, BUT I DON'T THINK THAT THERE IS A LOT OF ENTHUSIASM TO SEND THAT TO THE BALLOT UNTIL WE SEE THE FRAMEWORK WE ARE CURRENTLY OPERATING.

TED SIMONS: SOME HEAR THAT AND THINK .4% INCREASE. HOW IS THAT HURTING THE ECONOMY MORE THAN A LACK OF EDUCATION FUNDING HURTS IT NOW?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I DON'T WANT TO DEBATE HOW .4 MIGHT HURT AN INDIVIDUAL REALLY, REALLY STRUGGLING. IT IS A REGRESSIVE TAX. WE ALL KNOW THAT. THAT WAS, HONESTLY, THE POINT THE DEMOCRATS WERE MAKING, WHY THEY WERE OPPOSED TO THE SALES TAX INCREASE.

TED SIMONS: SO YOU DON'T THINK YOU GOT IT?

STEVE YARBROUGH: I DON'T THINK WE HAVE THE VOTES FOR THAT AT THIS POINT IN TIME.

TED SIMONS: BROADENING THE SALES TAX BASE FOR SERVICES NOT INCLUDED RIGHT NOW, INCREASE REVENUE WITHOUT WORRYING ABOUT $300 MILLION DEFICITS BY 20-20. BROADENING THE TAX REVENUE IN GENERAL.

J.D. MESNARD: YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT, A PROPOSAL BY THE DEMOCRATS, FORCING PEOPLE WITH SERVICES TO COLLECT THE TAX, REMITTING IT. IT'S A NEW THING, NOT SIMPLE AS FLIPPING A SWITCH. IT FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGES BUSINESS MODELS OUT THERE. YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO RUSH SOMETHING LIKE THAT THROUGH. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT ONE AND A HALF BILLION DOLLARS WITHIN THE NEXT FEW YEARS WITHIN THE EXISTING RESOURCES. WE SHOULD LET THAT PLAY OUT BEFORE ASKING FOR MORE MONEY.

TED SIMONS: DO YOU THINK THERE'S AN IDEA TO FUNNEL MONEY BACK TO EDUCATION FUNDING?

STEVE YARBROUGH: TED, IT'S NOT HELPFUL BECAUSE AS YOU WELL KNOW, WE SAVE MONEY ON THAT PROGRAM. THE SCHOLARSHIPS ARE CONSIDERABLY LESS THAN IT COSTS FOR THOSE SAME STUDENTS TO GO TO PUBLIC SCHOOL. THAT'S COUNTERPRODUCTIVE AND WOULD HURT US.

TED SIMONS: IF THEY TRANSFER TO A PUBLIC SCHOOL.

STEVE YARBROUGH: CORRECT, AND THAT'S A REQUIREMENT ON THE CORPORATE SIDE TO TRANSFER. WE CALL THEM SWITCHERS.

TED SIMONS: IS THAT GOING TO STAY THERE? YOU THINK THAT WON'T CHANGE?

STEVE YARBROUGH: NO, SIR.

TED SIMONS: THE IMPACT OF ALL OF THIS ON BUDGET TALKS, WHAT'S HAPPENING? THIS SEEMS LIKE THE 800-POUND GORILLA. IS IT AN 800-POUND GORILLA?

STEVE YARBROUGH: THE BUDGET IS AN 800-POUND GORILLA EVERY YEAR. I WAS COUNTING FOUR DAYS, I HAVE BEEN THERE 60 HOURS IN FOUR DAYS. WE ARE WORKING HARD AT IT.

TED SIMONS: WHEN TEACHERS SAY THE LEGISLATOR IS NOT TAKING THEM AND THEIR DEMANDS SERIOUSLY, YOU SAY?

J.D. MESNARD: IT IS UNFORTUNATE, EVERYTHING WE ARE DOING, ALLOCATING THE GOVERNOR'S PROPOSAL, WORKING THROUGH THE LATE HOURS OF THE NIGHT SHOULD BE SHOWING THAT'S NOT THE CASE, HOPEFULLY WITH THE BUDGET WE PUT OUT THERE END OF THE DAY, HOPEFULLY WE HAVE GREATER CERTAINTY.

TED SIMONS: GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE, UP NEXT ON ARIZONA HORIZON, AN UPDATE ON THE GROWTH OF THE STATE'S BIO-SCIENCE SECTOR.

Over 100 districts, encompassing a thousand schools, will be closing on Thursday as teachers participate in a statewide walkout.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough does not agree with the decision to walk out, calling it “inappropriate” and “unlawful.” Among the thousands of teachers who voted on the decision, 78 percent agreed to the walkout. Yarbrough says it’s disappointing, but the legislature will continue to work just as hard.

Governor Doug Ducey recently released a plan to give the teachers a 20 percent salary raise over the course of three years. He plans on using the extra economic revenue received to fund it for the first year, and he is counting on a continuing good economy to pay for the following years. Teachers want a more sustainable funding source.

“It would be one thing if we weren’t doing anything, if we were just ignoring the issue, but we’re hard at work,” House Speaker J.D. Mesnard says. “We’re going to get something very substantial for teachers. I would’ve preferred that they wait, but there was a growing sense that this was going to happen no matter what. Also to some degree, no matter what we do, it won’t be enough to some.”

Related: Lawyer explains legal dimensions of planned teacher walkout

Mesnard says the legislature is planning on reallocating hundreds of millions of dollars separate from the teacher raise that can go toward school supplies and school support staff.

“As far as sustainability, that’s what we’re working on at the legislature with the governor,” Mesnard says. “A lot of this has to do with how good the economy is doing, and how good we think it’s going to do. It’s doing really well now.”

Yarbrough cautions that working with and organizing a budget is not something that you rush through. He says they’re doing their best, but it’s a “complicated and challenging process.” Every detail has to be discussed and agreed upon by the majority of the legislature. He says, however, for them to please the teachers, they can’t keep adding demands.

“Those demands keep changing as time goes along,” Yarbrough says. “Perhaps they were surprised when the governor stepped up and said that he was prepared to have us do that 20 percent. Those other folks [support staff] have the capacity to be paid from other sources as well.”

Mesnard says the ongoing discussions have been nothing but positive, but they need time to get anything passed and cemented. As he has mentioned before on “Arizona Horizon,” Mesnard says it’s not up to the legislature to increase the salaries of teachers. All they can do is provide the districts with additional funds, and then it’s up to them to decide what to do with it.

Related: Lawmakers in favor of increasing teacher pay by taking responsibility from districts

“I think the more folks who bring this up and blame the legislature, you’re going to have legislators start to look at things that people really don’t want us to do like take over the salary schedule,” Mesnard says. “Right now there is a teacher crisis, a teacher shortage. You don’t see that same problem in other areas. I’m not saying they’re not without value because they are, they’re part of the educational system. Teachers and teacher pay have to be the priority.”

Walking out of classrooms and protesting in front of the capitol is not the only way to get the legislature’s attention, Yarbrough says. The legislature can only do so much, then it’s up to the districts on how the funds are distributed.

“For fiscal year 2019, what we’re budgeting for now, it’s really not going to be an issue as far as affording a massive increase in teacher pay funding,” Mesnard says. “We can address next year or a couple years from now if there’s really a shortage.”

Teachers will walk out on Thursday, and it’s not known for how long the walkout will last.

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In this segment:

Sen. Steve Yarbrough: (R) Senate President
Rep. J.D. Mesnard: (R) House Speaker

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