#Redfored: Understanding Why Arizona’s Teachers Are Taking A Stand

Let’s be honest. The US Education system is a mess. No matter which direction you look at it from, there’s just one tangle after another: student debt, college tuitions, classroom size, teacher pay, classroom funding, arts programs, mandatory state testing, curriculum standards, the list goes on.

Yesterday marked the third day of a state-wide teacher walk out here in Arizona (technically, 5th if you count the weekend when many teachers spent time either at the capital or canvassing their local communities).  School districts have shut down in an unprecedented move to demand 5 critical items from Governor Doug Doucey and the AZ legislature that are crucial to allow our kids a fighting chance at a decent education. Let’s take a look at these demands.

1.       20% salary increase for teachers. This is to ensure competitive pay with neighboring states so we can keep teachers in our schools. Currently, AZ ranks 49th for teacher pay. With the adjustments for inflation, teachers here make between 11-14% less than they did in 2001. I should note here that the Governor has proclaimed a 20% by 2020 plan. This is, the last I’ve heard, just a statement. There isn’t a cohesive plan for where the money will come from.

2.       Competitive pay for all Education Support Professionals. This means for everyone in the educational system: secretaries, counselors, bus drivers, etc.

3.       Permanent certified salary structure which includes annual raises. Many companies offer this sort of structure. It would go a long way to ensuring the changes we make today are sustainable and that Arizona could remain a competitive paying environment for certified teachers.

4.       Restore education funding to 2008 levels. The AZ Legislature has cut 1.1 Billion dollars from Education spending since 2008. With Prop 301, funds meant for schools were shifted to other areas of the budget.

5.       No new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average. Currently, the national average of per-pupil funding is $11,392. Arizona skates in at $7,489.

These demands are pretty straight forward. As of this afternoon, there has been no indication from the AZ Legislature that there will be a vote. A smear campaign has been launched by several conservative lawmakers, most notably, Rep Kelly Townsend who has threatened to leverage a class action lawsuit on behalf of the families impacted by the school closures. There’s even insinuations that these teachers are wearing red because of their obvious ties to Communism.

With a protest that’s gone on this long, it’s obvious how much we as a society rely on the public education system, not just to teach our children, but to care for them. And believe it or not, the teachers do care. In addition to taking their demands to the government, they are attempting to educate the public on why they are necessary. While the opposition is strong, the support is even stronger. Several PTA’s have taken in food donations to get meals together for those kids that rely on the meal programs. Local businesses are offering cut-rate deals for child day camps. Did you know that during the walk out, several Proms still took place with teacher chaperones? Did you know that many teachers are still making lesson plans to make up for the time they were out protesting? Several more are catching up on grading papers. These people are working tirelessly and fighting for your kids’ education.

What are you going to do for them?

I implore you to do your own research on the matter, talk to teachers, talk to your local government, check out the budget that has been proposed. Take a stand. Call Doug Doucey and tell him what you think of this mess and how we can fix it: 602-542-4331 or engage@az.gov