Thousands of #RedForEd Arizona teachers rally for more education funding
Thousands of Arizona's educators and supporters are rallying at the Capitol and across the state Wednesday as a show of #RedForEd protest over low pay and low state education funding.
Organizers of Arizona Educators United, the grassroots group that launched Arizona's #RedForEd movement, announced their demands of Gov. Doug Ducey and the state Legislature at the rally.
The Department of Public Safety estimated 2,500 attended the rally.
La’Sharon Mcginnis is a special education teacher in the Glendale Union High School District. She said teachers’ paychecks “do not coincide with the cost of living” or the extensive education and qualifications they must have.
She said students’ parents should be advocating for better working conditions for their child’s teachers alongside the teachers themselves.
TEACHERS: We want to hear from you
“Your child spends more of their waking hours with us than they do with anybody else,” Mcginnis said. “We often put your kids before ours. We take out of our kids’ mouths to make sure your kids, if there is no money, to make sure they’re fed and they have what they need.”
Mcginnis said the demand for a 20 percent pay increase is “more than fair” given the overtime hours many teachers work.
“We are not here out of selfish reasons,” Mcginnis said. “It’s more than just about pay. It’s about having a quality of life that doesn’t mean you can’t insure your kids because you can’t afford it. It’s about making sure your kids eat, making sure your kids have security at school."
Roosevelt school district special education teacher Christina Hoyt said she cares most about wages for support staff.
“Our support staff are the people who keep our classroom engine running. They’re the ones who are there with the kids day in, day out ... they’re not making a living wage at all," she said. "I was really excited when I heard that was one of the demands.”
She said the rally brought her to tears.
“I cried when he said we spend our lives standing up for other people,” she said. “It’s hard for us to stand up for ourselves.”
Thousands of #RedForEd Arizona teachers rally for more education funding at the state Capitol in Phoenix on March 28, 2018. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral.com
When asked for a comment from Ducey on the teachers' demands, spokesman Patrick Ptak issued a statement:
"Governor Ducey believes teachers are the biggest difference-makers out there. They do extraordinary work each day, and they should be valued and rewarded for their hard work. More needs to done, but our state has made progress. School districts have increased their investment in teacher salaries by 9%, according to the Arizona School Boards Association. In 2017, we saw an increase of 4.3% in teacher average salaries from 2016 to 2017. His goal for to (sic) pass a budget in the next few weeks that continues to increase our investment in public education, but we won't stop there. We will continue each year to put more resources into K-12 education to better serve our teachers and students. He meets with teachers regularly and wants to continue a dialogue about increasing our investment in Arizona schools and teachers."
6:40 p.m.: Teachers disperse
The teachers finished speaking slightly earlier than planned, and begin heading home.
Paul Chaissom, an engineering teacher at Mountain View High School, said he would strike if Ducey and lawmakers don't increase funding.
"Something's going to have to happen," he said.
Sarah Stevens said her priorities lie in classroom funding over teacher pay. The Simus Elementary teacher noted that the social studies materials used in classes date to when she was a student and don't include 9/11.
"Our students deserve a lot more," she said.
6:15 p.m.: 'We will win'
Shouts of "we will win" echo across the Capitol lawn.
Jennifer Patton, a third-grade teacher at Fowler Elementary in Phoenix, said the demand for a 20 percent salary increase isn't irrational but an attempt to be on par with other states.
She said she took a $20,000 pay cut to move here from Iowa so she could be closer to family.
"We need to live and support our family without struggling," she said.
6 p.m.: Teachers demand raise
Arizona teachers demand 20 percent pay raises.
The median pay for Arizona elementary teachers is $42,474, when adjusted for cost of living. A 20 percent increase would amount to $8,495, for a total of $50,969.
The total price tag for such a raise is unclear. State officials have estimated a 1 percent pay hike for teachers costs about $34 million, meaning a 20 percent raise could cost the state about $680 million.
That increase, while sizable, would still place an Arizona elementary teacher who makes the median salary below the national median of $55,800, as well as below pay medians for neighboring state such as New Mexico ($59,047) and Utah ($54,814).
Noah Karvelis and Dylan Wegela, both teachers and leaders in Arizona Educators United, list their demands during a #RedForEd rally at the Arizona state Capitol. David Wallace/azcentral.com
6 p.m.: Other demands
- Restoring state education funding to 2008 levels. Arizona spends $924 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars today than it did in 2008, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. Restoring education funding to that level would cost the state about $1 billion.
- Competitive pay for all education support professionals, such as teachers' aides and paraprofessionals. Dollar figures for this weren't specified Wednesday.
- A "permanent" step-and-lane salary structure in which teachers are guaranteed annual raises and steady advancement in wages.
- No new tax cuts until the state's per-pupil funding reaches the national average. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2015 figures, the most recent available, Arizona spent $7,489 per pupil compared with the national average of $11,392.
5:45 p.m.: Speakers begin
Teachers and administrators begin speaking, with loud cheers from the crowd.
Josh Martin, a sixth-grade teacher in Chandler, said he can't do his best teaching for his students and work multiple jobs like he is now.
"Even with a master's degree, I need three jobs to make ends meet — well, make ends almost meet," he said. "They (the Legislature) are enacting laws which only benefit themselves, while Arizona families and communities suffer. Our communities, our economies, our teachers deserve better."
Daniela Salazar is a senior at Maryvale High School in Phoenix and said she showed up to support her teachers because of how much of a difference they make to her.
“They do so much for us and you can tell,” Salazar said. “They’re always there and it’s hard to know that some of them have other jobs just because they can’t afford just to live.”
Salazar said she hopes teachers’ voices are heard, and that the #RedForEd movement results in a pay increase for public school teachers.
Lindsay Breon, a physical-education teacher at Washington Elementary School in Phoenix, shares her feelings at the #RedForEd rally at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on March 28, 2018. David Wallace/azcentral.com
5:30 p.m.; Student support
Jordan Harb and Dawn Motley are seniors at Mountain View High School in Mesa and said their access to resources and qualified teachers has dwindled in recent years.
Harb said his English class has 36 students.
“There’s no way a student can thrive in an environment where they don’t get individualized attention or even partially individualized attention,” Motley said.
She said even still, her teachers have been amazing.
“They’ve listened, they’ve supported us, but I’m here today because they shouldn’t have to go through this alone.”
Harb was also an organizer for Phoenix’s March for Our Lives rally held on Saturday, and said he believes the two movements are connected.
He said he hopes the Red for Ed movement leads to more funding for teacher salaries as well as emotional health resources for students on campus.
5:30 p.m.: A look at the paycheck
High school math teacher Julie Owens drew attention for her sign, which was a blown-up copy of her pay stub with her take home pay highlighted: $1,103.75.
She said that although she’s since earned a master’s degree in curriculum, she only makes $90 more per paycheck now than she did in 2008.
She is a single mother of four and a few years ago she was foreclosed on.
“I felt like I was betrayed. If I would have got a cost of living raise, I could have kept my house," she said. "I wasn’t asking for anything but cost of living.”
“My daughter worked at QT and made $10,000 more than me at a gas station,” she said.
She’s so fed up that she chose to protest Wednesday even though it’s her 49th birthday.
5:15 p.m.: Keeping qualified teachers
The rally is a din of noise and chats and side conversations between teachers about "insulting" pay.
Now in her fourth year of teaching, Allison Culley just signed a contract for $34,000 next year at Peoria Unified. She is marrying another teacher and she said it doesn't make financial sense to stay in Arizona.
A first-year teacher in her district is making $31,000, she said.
Culley said she doesn't want to strike. But she will if things don't change and the support is there.
"If it would make a difference, me and my teacher friends would do it," she said.
The Day of Action for Education took place at the State Capitol in Phoenix on March 28, 2018. Hundreds of teachers, their family members and supporters gathered to encourage lawmakers to increase teacher salaries. Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
Several teachers remarked that while they have more than a decade of experience and advanced degrees, their salaries have barely budged since the recession.
Katie Paetz, 33, a kindergarten teacher and president of the Osborn Elementary School Governing Board, said Republican legislators "need to listen to working families" and give an actual plan forward. Otherwise, she said, companies will not want to move here, or will be let with an undereducated workforce.
Paetz said she wants the state education budget restored to pre-recession levels, with an additional $1 billion.
5 p.m.: Thousands in attendance
The Department of Public Safety estimated a few thousand people were at the rally so far.
With her two toddlers in tow, Laura Weeshoff was among the parents who came to the protest to support educators.
“It is a travesty that they’re not paid appropriately so they’re leaving our state,” she said. “I just really want to support the teachers.”
Erin Edwards, a kindergarten teacher at Roosevelt Elementary in Mesa, said she's thinking about leaving the profession after 11 years. She joined the rally after a full day of school. Her pay, according to a salary schedule, should be $8,000 a year higher, she said.
"It's a shame that the profession is not respected in any form," she said.
Teachers with #RedForEd rally for more pay at the state Capitol on March 28, 2018. Kaila White/azcentral.com
READ MORE ABOUT #REDFORED:
Teachers hold #RedforEd rally at Capitol after sick-out at 9 West Valley schools
Hundreds of Chandler teachers march in solidarity with #RedForEd
Arizona teachers wear red, talk strike amid frustration over low wages
4:45 p.m.: Crowd is growing fast
The crowd is growing fast. Thousands had have already arrived. They are circling the front of the Capitol and chanting. Speeches are scheduled to begin about 5:45 p.m.
William Reimers works at a high poverty school in the Phoenix Union district. He teaches 10th grade world history and said he can see the effects of tight elementary-school budgets on students once they arrive at high school
"They struggle to read and write," he said of students in his class.
He said the kids struggle on the AzMerit state tests, and his pay — and some school funding — is tied to this performance.
4:30 p.m.: 'Time we start taking care of ourselves'
Vanessa Arredondo teaches in the rural Somerton district. She made a three-hour drive to get to today's rally.
She said she started out teaching in metro Phoenix but took a pay cut to teach closer to home. Arredondo is organizing for Yuma County with Arizona Educators United.
"We do it for the kids, but it's time we start taking care of ourselves," she said.
4:30 p.m.: Supporting the teachers
Lucero Gonzalez is a social worker who showed up to the rally because of the impact her public school teachers have had on her.
She said she hopes the rally prompts people to reach out to their state representatives, which she believes is key to creating change.
“If we don’t, then it’s just a show and it’s great and it’s awesome that everybody’s here but this is our first step,” Gonzalez said. “What is our second step, what is our third step? How can we keep mobilizing so that information gets from the outside to the inside where laws are being passed?”
Jessica Vaupel and Logan Hunt are seniors at Peoria High School who came to the rally in support of their teachers, who they say are underpaid for the work they do.
“Most of us have to share books and there’s not enough resources,” Vaupel said. “As students, we feel like we should be supporting the teachers who support us every day.”
Hunt added that his school’s art program is “terribly funded,” and that he would not mind if a strike similar to the one in West Virginia began in Arizona.
“It seemed to work for them, so hopefully it works for us,” Hunt said.
Public-school proponents rally at the state Capitol on March 28, 2018. Nick Oza/azcentral.com
4:15 p.m.: Prop. 123 'wasn't a raise'
Jacquelyn DiPaola, a 29-year-old first-grade teacher at Bicentennial South School in Glendale, moved to Arizona after completing her master’s degree in special education because she wanted to help combat the teacher shortage.
“All five years have been the same pay,” she said, exasperated.
She said the money she got after voters approved Prop. 123 went to supplies and “wasn’t a raise at all.”
She said she would consider striking to support her fellow teachers but might not be able to afford losing her pay — she soon has to start paying off the loans from her master’s degree.
4 p.m.: 'Living paycheck to paycheck'
Musicians are warming up at the #RedforEd rally. Standing near the stage, third-grade Mesa teacher Kristin Dixon said she started teaching in Arizona 16 years ago because she thought it was an "OK" place to teach.
Since then, she said, conditions have gone "downhill."
"I still feel like a first-year teacher because I'm living paycheck to paycheck and still renting a home," she said.
Dixon said she feels like there's "nowhere to go" and her class sizes have ballooned from 16 kids in the classroom over a decade ago to 29 kids.
4 p.m.: Seeking more classroom resources
Vico Guerrero, a fourth-grade teacher at Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary in Ahwatukee, said he decided to go to the rally partly because he wants more classroom resources.
"As I'm establishing the kids in the classroom, it makes it a little difficult when I don't have all the resources available to me," he said.
3:30 p.m.: Teachers begin gathering
By 3:30 p.m., 17th Avenue was closed between Adams and Jefferson streets, parking nearby was full and about a hundred people wearing red were mingling in front of the Capitol.
Some visited a Belgian waffle food truck or the AZ Pops popsicle cart while others browsed about a dozen tables for organizations including SOS AZ, Arizona PTA and Children’s Action Alliance.
Many people wore big yellow stickers that said, “I don’t want to strike... but I will!”
The latest of many educator protests in Arizona
Arizona's #RedForEd movement was inspired in part by teachers in West Virginia who went on strike for nine days and successfully negotiated 5 percent raises earlier this month. Arizona's effort started March 7 when thousands of Arizona educators wore red in a silent demonstration.
Last week, nine schools in the West Valley closed after a wave of teachers called in sick to stage a #RedForEd rally at the Capitol.
Most recently, hundreds of teachers wore red and marched together in Chandler.