Arizona teachers’ walkout appears to be nearing an end for now. The Arizona Educators United and Arizona Education Association called for an end to the Red for Ed strike yesterday as the exact amount of extra funding for education continues to be hammered out by lawmakers, according to Arizona Capitol Times.
Arizona Educators United and their supporters are demanding a 20 percent raise for teachers, competitive wages for classified staff, a return to pre-Recession school funding, no new tax cuts until per student spending reaches the national average, and yearly raises for teachers until salaries reach the national average.
Arizona ranks as one of the worst states in terms of education. According to Business Insider, real earnings for teachers fell by more than 10 percent since the 1999-2000 school year with the average teacher salary of $47,403 in the 2016-2017 school year.
By comparison, the average teacher salary was $47,500 in New Mexico, $47,224 in Utah, $46,506 in Colorado, $57,376 in Nevada and $78,711 in California. The national average is
While Arizona falls near neighboring states like Colorado and New Mexico in terms of salary, it is far behind in terms of per-pupil spending. Education spending per pupil in Arizona is just $7,489, whereas Colorado spends $9,245 and New Mexico spends $9,752 per pupil.
Governor Doug Ducey announced that he would support a 20 percent raise for teachers by 2020 and made a small concession on increased education funding in general. However, he has had to strong-arm members of his own party who control the state legislature and appear unwilling to cave too much to the educators’ demands.
Teachers protesting near the state capitol took time to testify before the Arizona House Appropriations Committee as it debates the budget. Many educators are upset over the lack of priority that the legislature has given to their demands for higher education spending.
According to David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, one teacher told the lawmakers on the committee, “You gave away the loaf and are giving us crumbs.”
Recent Republican administrations in Arizona have made cutting government and taxes, especially on corporations and high-income earners, the cornerstone of their economic agenda. Taxes from corporations have been cut by $500 million since 2011.
Lawmakers unwillingness to increase funding by to pre-Recession levels means that the fight isn’t over for Arizona Educators United leader and music teacher Noah Karvelis.
“The win isn’t there until we’ve restored the $1.1 billion that have been cut,” Karvelis said.
A recent ballot initiative would raise $690 million per year for education. The Invest in Education Act, as it is known by its supporters, would create two new income tax brackets for high-income earners in the state. Individuals making more than $250,000 per year would pay 3.46 percent more income tax while those making more than $500,000 would pay 4.46 percent more.
Pressure to return to the classroom
The announcement for teachers to return to their classrooms came as some school districts said they would reopen on Thursday.
While many parents supported the move by teachers to demand more funding for education, some were also wary of their methods.
One parent in Flagstaff views the Red for Ed movement as being politically motivated, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.
“Everyone is for good education, as am I,” said David Hitesman, a parent of two elementary school children. “I believe they deserve more funding, but they have such disdain for the Republican leadership in the state they are unwilling to even come to the table.”
Some candidates also made comments that seemed to empathize with parents, while still supporting the educators, including Steve Weichert running for the state Senate in legislative district 17 against Senate President Steve Yarbrough.
“Just as I think it’s important to support our teachers, I also think it equally important that we refrain from pointing fingers at angry parents,” Weichert said on Twitter. “With our children out of school, some parents are feeling the pinch more than others. We need to be sensitive to this fact.”
Other state lawmakers made their contempt for the protesting educators well known. Rep. Noel Campbell (R-LD1) reportedly told a group of protestors in front of the capitol, “Go back to work.”
State Sen. Judy Burges (R-LD22) was also less than courteous in an email response, which was posted to Twitter.
“Thank you so much for your reply,” Sen. Burges began. “Please vote me out of office this fall. You have probably never voted for me or never would. While I do think teachers need a raise, it is my job to do a budget. If you want to do my job, then run for it. Blessings to you and yours.”