Now that the dust has settled, we can take a moment to look back at the most recent legislative session. It was a mix of victories and setbacks for our students and teachers. While we saw huge crowds at the Capitol, we also failed to help 83,000 students with a bipartisan bill.
Here are five things you should know about the 2018 legislative session in Arizona:
1. Teachers received the largest pay raise in more than a decade I've never seen anything like it in Arizona.
Teachers said they were going to walk and they backed up their words. According to reports, 50,000 teachers marched to the Capitol demanding change. Our teachers showed us that when we advocate, lawmakers will have to listen. The result was that Governor Ducey and the legislature passed a budget that gives teachers, on average, a 20% pay raise pay by FY 2021. This pay raise has built-in stability because it’s included in the base funding. That means it’s permanent and ongoing, and it will keep up with rising inflation.
2. School funding was restored This is a big victory for our students.
Since 2008, our classrooms had experienced continuous cuts. This budget included $371 million to restore those recession-era funding cuts phased-in over five years. Besides restoring funding to our schools, the budget also included the following:
- $86 million for construction of new schools
- $53 million in building renewal
- $1.8 million to fund career and technical education (JTEDs)
- $2 million for Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind to enhance early childhood intervention
- $3 million with a $7 million federal match for school behavioral specialists to increase school safety
- $1 million for gifted education
3. Lawmakers could have done more for our ELL students
Despite addressing teacher pay and increasing education funding, our English Language Learner bill came up a bit short. This bill had bipartisan support. It had passed through various committees with near unanimous support, but when the big moment came—lawmakers didn't allow an up or down vote on the floor. This was disheartening because this bill would have helped 83,000 students learn English faster. We’ll have to keep fighting for our ELL students next legislative session. We just wish lawmakers could have done something for our students during this legislative session.
4. Struggling readers received much-need support
Every single student must be able to read by the end of third grade, yet 56% of third-graders cannot read proficiently in Arizona. While we’ve seen some improvement in the last couple of years, we can do better. That’s why we’re excited that HB2520, which will strengthen existing reading policies, passed this legislative session.
5. Education will still be an issue for the 2018 election
While students and teachers scored major victories, the fight for better schools for all students isn’t over. Education policy will still be something that is front and center this election cycle.
For one, there might be two education measures on the November ballot. One measure will repeal legislation passed last year to expand the ESA program. The second one is the Invest in Education Act. This “citizens initiative” will raise income tax rates for filers earning over $250,000 (single) and $500,000 (joint). The additional revenue would then be used for teacher pay and school operations.
At the same time, many candidates will be running either for the first time or for reelection. They will have to answer the tough questions about how we move our state’s education system forward. In the coming weeks, we’ll start our endorsement process. This year we are asking lawmakers to pledge to support our key priorities. We are asking some tough questions, and we hope you’ll do the same.
If we missed anything in the section above, let us know in the comments section. We appreciate your feedback!