In a 2017 WalletHub study, “Best & Worst States for Teachers,” Arizona ranked 51 overall — the worst by far out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“I’ve been teaching for 30 years and I’ve seen funding decreases year after year, particularly since 2008,” said Sheri Schreck, a teacher at Echo Mountain Primary School. She was one of thousands of teachers who marched on the state capitol last Thursday as part of a walkout that impacted 840,000 of Arizona’s 1.1 million public school students, according to the Arizona Republic.
“The last 10 years, I’ve seen a decrease in the amount of funding for our schools and in teachers’ salaries,” Schreck added. “It’s time for Arizona to insist on educating our children.”
In order to ameliorate the effects of the walkout, Jewish groups and organizations, as well as those of other faith groups, have opened their doors to help ensure students have someplace to be for as long as the walkout continues.
At a press conference last Wednesday, the Arizona Faith Network expressed its support for teachers and Arizona’s youth.
“I joked with a reporter this morning who said, ‘I hear you’re scheduling a prayer meeting,’ ” said the Rev. Anne Ellsworth. “I said, ‘It’s a prayer meeting, but we’re not gathering to hold hands and sing Kumbaya.’ ”
Several clergy present at the press conference gave a series of impassioned pleas in support of students and teachers, in addition to detailing some of their plans for accommodating impacted students.
“I am proud to stand here with my fellow honorable clergymen, proud to stand in solidarity with teachers and in solidarity with this courageous movement,” said Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash. “I’m profoundly ashamed when I see that we ranked 48th, 49th and 50th in class sizes, in teacher pay, in school funding and in school quality and performance across the board.”
Other faith leaders also expressed their support for teachers and hope that the legislature and governor would work swiftly to resolve the crisis.
“The Jewish tradition is clear that education is a top priority for our children,” said Rabbi Dean Shapiro, senior rabbi for Temple Emanuel of Tempe. “The state of education in Arizona is poor and therefore I feel compelled as a community leader, as a Jewish leader, as a rabbi, to offer my time and support on behalf of teachers and students and school workers to try to improve their learning conditions and thereby the state of our culture and economy.”
Organizations across the Valley sought to help as many students as they could.
The Valley of the Sun JCC offered members a typical camp day for kids at a reduced rate, including sports, science, cooking, art and other activities, plus a bounce house provided by AZ Bounce Pro. A significant number of its members signed up. (For more information, go to vosjcc.org/walkout.)
The East Valley JCC also offered day programming, with availability on a first-come, first-serve basis. The program costs $30 dollars per day and snacks are provided, though students do need to bring their own peanut-free lunch. (For more information, contact 480-897-0588 or email email@example.com.)
Pardes Jewish Day School allowed students to bring a friend from impacted schools with them for no charge on Thursday, April 26.
Other institutions offering to accommodate set numbers of students included Eastlake Park Community Center, Neighborhood Ministries Phoenix, Brooks Academy, the Boys & Girls Club-Gila River, Joseph Zito Elementary School and George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.
A number of United Methodist churches were offering free childcare for school-age children.
Childsplay Theater was offering full day camp and performance opportunities for impacted students. (For more info, go to childsplayaz.org.)
“I’m really appreciative that our Jewish community and other clergy and denominations are supporting ‘Red for Ed’ and opening up their doors, whether it be with camps or food for low-income families,” said Schreck, who is a member of Temple Chai. “Not only have I seen teachers coming together and all different educators coming together, but I’m seeing the community really coming together and it’s just been really uplifting and positive.” JN