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Chamber Study Blames State Retirement System For Teacher Pay Problems

It is the start of 2020, but for Arizona’s schools, it’s still the 2019 year and another year-plus to go in funding teacher pay raises. But some state business leaders are already starting off this year fighting Gov. Ducey’s plan to raise teacher salaries 20% by the end of the 2020 school year.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce released a report this week relaunching its argument against annual pay bumps for teachers as a means to solve the take-home pay problem. Garrick Taylor with the chamber says its study shows state retirement systems, like Arizona’s, are pulling any potential gains out of salary increases.

“It’s because of these very intentional policy decisions that lawmakers and successive governors have made that have put Arizona in the economic position that it finds itself in. Now it’s time to look at how to bolster the retirement system that state employees pay into," Taylor said. 

Taylor says Arizona's retirement system actually inflicts greater damage to take-home pay than any tax cuts given to incentivize business, tax cuts which are often cited as the culprit for low teacher pay. He denies tax cuts going back to 2008 have had any impact on teacher retirement rates. He says it is about finding ways to fix a declining pension system.

"If we're going to accept that tax cuts have played a role, we would argue that it's tax cuts that delivered economic growth and have made a 20% teacher pay raise even possible," Taylor said. 

Taylor says teachers and schools each paid 3% in teacher retirement contributions at the beginning of the 2000s. That has risen to 12% for each group beginning in July 2019 and take-home pay is still not sufficient.

Ducey’s 2020 plan is a state-funded commitment to raise teacher pay 20% by the school year ending spring 2021.


Heather van Blokland was a host at KJZZ from 2016 to 2021.