Education News

AZ goes #RedforEd to get Gov. Ducey, legislature to do right by public schools

By Brian Washington

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UPDATE: On Thursday, April 12, Governor Ducey proposed a 20 percent pay raise for teachers. However, educators say Ducey’s proposal raises some important questions.

In Arizona, a full-time employee at Taco Bell, a fast-food restaurant chain, can earn more than a kindergarten teacher.

Derek Harris, a middle school band teacher with the Tucson Unified School District, got this piece of disheartening news at a rally he attended designed to bring attention to the plight of public education within the state. He said the fast-food chain came to the rally to recruit.

“Taco Bell came down to the rally and was handing out employment information to teachers,” said Harris, who has 11-years of classroom experience. “They (Taco Bell) were saying you can make a starting salary of $35,000 a year. We have kindergarten teachers who don’t even make $34,000.”

According to a recent study, Arizona ranks 49th nationwide for elementary school teacher pay and 48th when it comes to teacher pay in secondary schools. Teachers within the state can often barely support themselves and their families and are forced to leave for New Mexico and Utah, neighboring states where they can earn $15,000 more a year.

This isn’t fair to our students,” said Harris, who believes they suffer the most when educators are forced to leave. “Our students need stability in the classroom to create the best learning environment.

A quality public education is the beginning of all professions. We need to be able to attract and maintain quality teachers to make sure our students are prepared for the future.

Arizona educator Derek Harris

Arizona now spends a billion dollars less on public schools than it did in 2008. The state ranks at the bottom nationally in per pupil spending. And yet, state lawmakers have cut taxes and expanded tax credits for corporations every year since 1990. When adjusted for inflation, that amounts to about $4.4 billion in reduced revenue—money that could have been used for students, educators, and public schools.

Governor Doug Ducey says he’s fine with school funding as long as “we’re not last.” According to Harris, Ducey calls himself an “Education Governor” but has cut more from public schools during his time in state government than anyone else in Arizona’s history. Educators say Ducey can’t be trusted and his funding measures only maintain the status quo. They want real, long-term solutions and are ready to take action.

On Wednesday, April 11, as part of the #RedforEd movement, teachers and classified personnel held walk-ins throughout the state to educate their communities about the funding shortfalls facing public schools. Walk-ins occurred in 130 school districts and involved 1,112 schools. Students and parents joined educators in the demonstrations, which saw everyone wearing red t-shirts and other clothing items in support of public education. An estimated 22,000 people participated. Educators arrived at their schools early for the walk-ins, held an information rally outside, and, at the appropriate time, walked into the school in an orderly fashion to begin the school day. The demonstrations did not impact students’ school day.

Arizona’s #RedforEd platform includes the following demands:

  • A 20 percent raise built into the teacher salary schedule with yearly increases based on experience and education;
  • Competitive wages for classified staff (who, according to Harris, keep schools running from day to day);
  • A return to 2008 education funding levels; and
  • No new tax cuts until per pupil spending is returned to the national average

“We are no longer ashamed. We are putting it out there. It’s time. It’s time educators in Arizona should be heard,” said Catherine Barrett, a 16-year education veteran who teaches in Phoenix.

“It’s about school funding. It’s about fair compensation and wages. It’s about the working conditions because our working conditions are a student’s learning conditions.”

 

 

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