by Brian Washington
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If you gave Noah Karvelis, a music teacher who works in Tolleson, Arizona, five minutes to give you a quick download on the #RedforEd movement, you’d learn that, despite what all the headlines say, educators are more focused on their students—not teacher pay.
“One hundred percent. There’s been a lot of attention on the pay demands because that’s what grabs headlines,” said Kavelis, one of the leaders behind the grassroots movement. “However, we are really focused on the students and that’s where the largest portion of the money goes in relation to our demands.”
#RedforEd, which involves hundreds of thousands of educators across the state—all seeking more funding for public education, outlined five demands for Governor Doug Ducey and the state legislature. They include the following:
- A 20 percent salary increase to help attract and retain quality educators for public school students;
- Restore education funding to pre-recession, 2008 levels; the state currently spends $924 less per student than it did in 2008;
- Competitive pay for education support professionals who are important in the lives of students and the day-to-day operations of all public schools;
- A permanent salary structure with annual raises; and
- No more corporate tax cuts until per-pupil spending reaches the national average.
Corporate tax cuts are going through the roof and continue to deplete our revenue source for funding public education. The legislature supports tax cuts and corporations more than it supports communities and public schools.
We have corporations paying $600 million less in taxes than they did in 2007. That’s ridiculous,” said Karvelis. “Meanwhile, our public schools here are operating with a $1.1 billion annual deficit compared to 2007.
Governor Ducey responded to the demands with a budget proposal that includes a 20 percent raise for teachers—a proposal Karvelis says is more like an empty campaign promise.
“The 20 percent raise is a myth,” said Karvelis. “It’s not legislation. It’s not a guarantee. It’s more like a one-time 9 percent raise and we don’t know where the money will come from to go beyond that.”
To make matters worse, Karvelis says it’s unclear which educators would qualify for the raise and, under Ducey’s proposal, education support professionals, like bus drivers and cafeteria workers, would get nothing.
“He’s left out a ton of people who are vital to our public schools,” said Karvelis.
“The other problem is that it doesn’t do anything for per pupil spending. We have five demands that we look at as a comprehensive plan for funding public education in Arizona. He’s ignored four of them and hasn’t really fulfilled the one that he tried to shoot for.”
Thursday, the leaders of the #RedforEd movement, which is comprised of the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United, announced that educators from across the state voted overwhelmingly to walk out of Arizona’s schools. In addition to low wages, they cited 10 years of drastically underfunded schools, overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling infrastructure.
“We’re using textbooks from the 1990s because there’s no money for books. That’s just one of the reasons we’re fighting to make Arizona’s kids, schools and educators a higher priority in the governor’s office,” says AEA President and Mesa government teacher Joe Thomas.
Thursday’s decision follows several weeks of educator-led walk ins at hundreds of schools, where teachers and education support professionals were joined by students, parents and other public school stakeholders.
“That’s really what this fight is about—it’s about our kids, parents, families, and public schools,” said Karvelis. “We can’t let the status quo continue. That would be devastating and the greatest disservice we could do to our students.”