On April 19, Arizona teachers voted to walk out of classrooms to demand high salaries. Organizers from Arizona Educators United, the activist group pushing for raises said the primary reasons for launching the protest are, “drastically underfunded schools, overcrowded classrooms, crumbling infrastructure and low wages for educators.” They went on to say the “#RedforED movement has provided educators the opportunity to voice what action they want to take in an historic statewide vote.”
But that vote was not on a statewide ballot during an election and not all residents of Arizona support this movement. The walkouts, which continued for six consecutive school days, are hurting kids and local communities.
I wanted to get a better understanding of this issue, so I began doing some research and talking to affected (actually, disaffected) folks. What I’ve learned has taken me further than I expected. Several parents pointed out that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey had agreed to meet protestors’ primary demand before the walkout even began. So is this movement really interested in achieving its stated objectives or in something else?
In a May 1 post on Red For Ed’s official Facebook page, Arizona parent Andrew Sands commented, “Ducey not only accepted, but surpassed the Red for Ed demands before your strike started. Your irresponsible actions have prompted my wife and I to remove our children from public schools to place them in charter schools.”
CNN reported that Ducey offered 20 percent pay raises the protesters demanded, through a 9 percent increase “in the 2018 school year, then another 5% for the next two years, which would boost the average salary to $58,130 from the current $48,372 by 2020.”
Other Public Schools Perform Better with Less Money
Arizona charter schools, which are independent public schools run by boards instead of by school districts, greatly outperform their public school counterparts and at a much cheaper cost per student. Why spend even more money on public schools, when the results are lagging behind school systems that top national rankings?
For example, the latest national test scores show that 67 percent of eighth-grade students in American public schools are not proficient in math. However, Arizona charter schools rank No. 1 in the country for eighth-grade math performance, while Arizona public schools barely rank above the middle. Discrepancies like this don’t make parents and state residents excited about pumping more money into the public school system, when such results are being obtained for far less money.
I reached out to a local parent, who is also a teacher within the Arizona public school system. Sharon (whose name was changed for this article at her request, due to fear of reprisals) first shared an article that laid out protesters’ five demands:
- 20 percent salary increase
- Restore education funding to 2008 levels
- Competitive pay for all education support staff
- Permanent salary including annual raises
- No new tax cuts
“This is what they are demanding. Ducey agreed to [the] raise and they still went on to strike,” she said. “I voted against striking and am completely opposed to it.”
I mentioned that demands for things like restoring funding to 2008 levels, annual raises and no new tax cuts seemed untenable. She said, “As a teacher, I am personally embarrassed. We signed our contracts, there has to be a better way than stomping feet and leaving kids home from school. I agreed to my salary for the year, as did all those who are marching.”
Sharon noted the protesters are making financial comparisons to other states that have high taxes and higher costs of living: “Things were way worse here during the entire Obama admin [sic] and no strikes.”
One of the biggest talking points the marchers used is that Arizona spends $23,441 per inmate per year, but only $3,573 per student, Sharon noted. But it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, because the expenditure for inmates covers costs for 24/7 needs for 365 days per year, versus eight hours per day for 180 school days for students. Also, that $3,573 figure is only what the state of Arizona spends on public schools. Local districts and the federal government also fund Arizona public schools, like all the nation’s public schools, such that Arizona’s average per-pupil tax expenditure per year is approximately $11,000, according to federal data.
Another related item she mentioned is that many teachers in Arizona support open borders. Yet, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, as of 2010, illegal immigrants took $1.6 billion from Arizona’s education system. Court rulings have required U.S. public schools to educate foreign citizens who are inside the United States. As recently as 2017 the overall cost of illegal immigration to Arizona taxpayers was $2.3 billion. Nationally, on average, total state educational expenditures for illegal immigrants top $44 billion.
Those numbers represent $1.6 billion that could be spent on the very things Arizona teachers are protesting, without having to increase taxes or pull money from other state programs.
“If someone can provide me with a comprehensive budget that shows how this will work for AZ, I will consider supporting it,” Sharon said, when asked about the immigration numbers. “As of now, I haven’t been able to find anyone even trying to do that. They just want hundreds of millions of dollars, and they want it now.”
‘You Lost Me When Kids Paid the Price’
Rachel Cardon Turley posted on Facebook about her son’s calculus teacher, who has used his own money to rent a room off campus to keep teaching his students so they can perform well on exams that can help them gain college credit for high school classes.
“I’d like to give a public shout out to a teacher who truly deserves a raise!” she wrote. “Mr. P” “hasn’t walked out on his students, their parents, or his contract, and is doing his job to the best of his ability until it’s over.”
She went on to say, “Teachers should be paid more and the education budget should be a priority, but timing is everything…I probably would’ve joined the movement after teachers fulfilled their contracts that they agreeably signed for this school year and then fought for more pay before signing next year’s contract. But, you lost me when you said ‘it’s for the kids’ and now kids are paying the price.”
If these weren’t enough reasons to re-consider any support of the Red for Ed movement, local news outlet Arizona Central just published a story highlighting an unexpected and significant effect. Local blood banks report the school closures are harming their supply, because high schoolers are the top blood donors in Arizona.
The article went on to mention that Arizona blood banks must take in around 500 donors daily to keep supplies constant. Officials estimate they will lose 1,200 if the walkout continues all week, which is approximately a 2.5-day supply for the state.
More Money Into a Broken System Isn’t the Answer
Most people seem to support the general idea of higher teacher pay. However, most people do not like the way protesters are forcing this issue on kids, parents, and taxpayers. Six days off has meant parents having to miss work, and students missing preparations for critical college exams. Additionally, missed days will likely be added to the end of the school year, forcing families to change more plans, such as vacation plans, which could get costly if there are re-booking fees and the like.
Arizona teachers want to be paid more. But those teachers do not perform as well as other teachers who are in charter schools that spend far less money. The state has billions of extra dollars available, but is currently allocating it to illegal immigrants—who shouldn’t even be receiving public funds. And the burden to families and unintended consequences of teachers walking out on contracts they willingly signed makes this movement nearly impossible to support, for me and for many others.
I don’t know what the solution is, but I know what it isn’t: throwing more money into a completely broken system.