Educators and students are back in class after the end of a six-day walkout that drew national attention and saw Arizona teachers demand a return to pre-recession levels for education funding.
After a legislative session that stretched from May 2 into the morning of May 3, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a budget including $400 million for education, a significant increase over the $65.4 million he proposed a little more than a month ago.
“Arizona teachers have earned a raise, and this plan delivers,” Ducey said. “I’ve had the honor of hearing directly from Arizona teachers over these last several weeks in particular. It’s their input that has shaped and improved this plan.”
Though significantly less than the $1.1 billion sought by educators, parents and teachers were relieved to see the end of the standoff, though many vowed to continue the battle.
“When we started this movement, Arizona educators pledged to keep fighting for the schools their students deserve until the end, and we were true to our word,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, and Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, in a joint statement.
The teachers had five demands: a 20 percent salary increase, the restoration of education funding to 2008 levels, competitive pay for support staff, a commitment to annual raises for teachers, and a pledge to not cut taxes until Arizona per-pupil education funding reaches the national average.
Though the teachers failed to obtain these objectives, their supporters were quick to point out what the walkout did accomplish.
“I think we got everything out of this legislature that they were willing to do,” said David Schapira, a former teacher and school administrator who is a Democratic candidate for Arizona superintendent of public instruction. “If you look at the governor’s budget introduced at the beginning of the legislative session and you compare that to the final budget, you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars more for schools than Gov. Ducey had proposed giving.
“The Red for Ed movement accomplished that.”
Though it has been widely reported that the budget provided teachers with a 20 percent wage increase, this number is somewhat deceptive.
The governor promised teachers a 9 percent raise next year, followed by 5 percent raises each of the following two years. An already given 1 percent bonus was added to this number to produce the 20 percent figure.
However, according to the Arizona Republic, 59 school districts will not receive sufficient money to enact even these raises. These include the Phoenix Union, Mesa Unified and Chandler Unified school districts.
“I’m suspicious that they’ll actually follow through on that, because in the original plan only about half of that is going to go through this next fiscal year,” said Rick Wegker, a teacher at Sandra Day O’Connor High School in the Deer Valley School District. “I’m also skeptical of where they’re going to get the money from. Suddenly, the projections for the revenue coming in are much better than they were before.”
Some teachers may be exempted from the raise due to the way the legislature defined which educators are eligible.
“If I’m understanding correctly, it’s only for teachers with a class list attached to their name, so that would exclude your music teachers, your art teachers, your reading specialists, your librarians, all those other people,” said Sheri Schreck, a Jewish teacher at Echo Mountain Primary School in Phoenix.
While all the teachers interviewed were happy to be returning to their classrooms and students, many were not satisfied with the budget.
“I think that the budget falls short of what the Red for Ed movement stands for and that was increasing public school funding back to what it was a decade ago,” said Jordan Castle, a biology teacher at Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson. “It is important to get funding back into our public education systems in order to fix our crumbling schools, update our textbooks and technology, decrease our classroom sizes, provide an adequate number of counselors at our schools, support our teachers and our support staff financially, and create a sustainable budget system.
“This is only just the beginning. We will continue to fight for what our students deserve.” JN