A week after signing a budget that included more money for teachers and school districts, Gov. Doug Ducey traveled to Tucson. One of his stops included Raytheon for a dedication ceremony celebrating an expansion project.
Arizona 360 spoke with Ducey one-on-one following the ceremony, discussing a variety of issues that have progressed since the start of the year. Starting with the unprecedented push by teachers to increase education funding, he explained how each school district will have the opportunity to distribute the nine percent funding increase as they see fit.
Host Lorraine Rivera asked Ducey to talk about his other priorities and significant decisions, including the deployment of the National Guard to the border, the Opioid epidemic, and the ongoing NAFTA negotiations.
The state spending bill that boosts teacher pay may have ended the educators' walkout, but not the Red For Ed movement. Hank Stephenson, a reporter who covers education policy for the Arizona Daily Star has closely followed the teacher protests. Arizona 360 invited Stephenson to debrief the many aspects of the walkout.
Stephenson explained how the budget will benefit both the movement’s organizers and Ducey despite the compromises made.
“Both sides can walk away from this and say, ‘We didn’t get everything we wanted, but it was a win’ and nobody is lying in that sense,” said Stephenson.
A recent Arizona Auditor General report shows some school districts in Arizona are spending top dollar on administrator salaries, including the Tucson Unified School District.
For a deeper understanding of why some leaders make six-figure salaries, Arizona 360 turns to John Pedicone, former Superintendent of TUSD and Flowing Wells School districts in Southern Arizona.
Pedicone dives into the structure followed to pay administrative staff and teachers, detailing the competitive market that drives salary changes among districts.
“There’s no unlimited amount of money,” says Pedicone. “But there’s got to be some attention given to all those individuals and programs that help give a level playing field to students. That’s the issue of equity. It’s going to take some districts more personnel or less personnel to get that job to happen.”
This week, Arizona 360 looks at why the University of Arizona and Arizona State University both want to withdraw from the state health insurance program. The two universities have been a part of the program since 2004.
“The U of A could save at least $20 million a year in moving to our own self-insured health insurance model,” said Vice President of UA Business Affairs and Human Resources Allison Vaillancourt.
Today, just under 50,000 UA and ASU employees receive health insurance through the state, making up more than a third of the entire program. Northern Arizona University already has its own self-funded program.
Marie Isaacson is the head of benefits for the State Department of Administration. She says the universities’ withdrawal would have a major impact on the state system.
“The purpose of insurance is to pool our risks,” said Isaacson. “The larger our pool, the more diversified our risk is. If the universities left our pool, then the cost for the state agencies would increase the cost for the remaining state agencies by about $35 million.”
Legislators would have to give their nod or Ducey could allow the universities to leave the health care program through an executive order. The state's health insurance plan runs in five-year cycles and the next bid goes out in 2019.
Reporter Vanessa Barchfield sits down with Susan Stryker, a professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at UA. Stryker says the state system is not working for everyone, namely the transgender community.
Stryker describes what the state health care plan looks like for transgender people, including that hormone treatment is covered but surgery and other related costs are not.
“For transgender faculty in particular, and there are a number of us as well as number of faculty and staff members who have dependents, partners or children who need to access trans-related health care,” said Stryker. “Currently, transgender health care benefits are excluded under the state plan.”