On Tuesday, thousands of educators across the U.S. dressed for school in red-shirted solidarity with their colleagues in Arizona, who were stunned last week when the state Supreme Court blocked a ballot initiative that would have increased school funding by $690 million.
“Our students and educators deserve better,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, in urging NEA members to participate in Tuesday’s national #RedForEd day.
This summer, Arizona educators worked day and night to gather and deliver 270,000 petition signatures to the state—far more than the 151,000 required—enabling Proposition 207, which would have guaranteed voters a say in sustainable school revenues.
“We knew the voters would support this. They want to see more funding in our schools, they want to reverse the direction that our governor and legislature has had for us,” said Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas. “The voters have been cheated out of the opportunity to invest real dollars in education.”
The court’s ruling will not be the last word on education funding, promised Noah Karvelis, Arizona high school teacher and a leader in Arizona’s #RedForEd movement. “We know what to do. We will put one foot in front of the other, and keep fighting.”
The next step? The November election. “Our only recourse is to remember in November. That’s where we’re going to make the most impact,” said Thomas.
As Arizona educators look toward the November election, it’s undeniable that they will have power at the polls. In Oklahoma last week, Republican primary voters ousted dozens of state legislators who were unsupportive of their #RedForEd efforts this spring. The same thing happened in West Virginia’s primary elections this spring."
In November, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey faces challenger David Garcia, who has said that Ducey “stacked” the court against educators. “The stakes for governor in Arizona just changed utterly and irrevocably. We must elect pro-public education candidates up and down the ballot to prevent this kind of corruption in the future. I’m proud to stand with our educators, parents, and kids.
No state in the nation has cut education funding more than Arizona. Between 2008 and 2015, state lawmakers cut funding per student by 36.6 percent, according to a national analysis by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Even as the state economy has rebounded from last decade’s Great Recession, lawmakers have refused to reinvest in public schools. Last year, they spent 13.6 less on students than they did in 2008.
The results of their neglect are stunning. Teachers have up to 50 students in their classrooms. An elementary school counselor last year reported 1,540 students in her care. In photographic evidence, Arizona educators have shared the evidence of legislative abandon: mold growing on their classroom ceilings, decades-old textbooks taped together, homemade “air conditioners” that educators construct with Styrofoam coolers, electric fans and bags of ice. Teachers describe earning so little money that their own children qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
This spring, in the largest educator walkout in history, tens of thousands of Arizona teachers participated in a statewide, six-day #RedForEd walkout that ended with significant teacher pay raises but no commitment for additional state funding. Arizona educators weren’t satisfied. Their #RedForEd efforts never were about salary only. Almost immediately after educators returned to school, they began working on #InvestInEd, which would have taxed Arizona’s wealthiest to increase funds for public schools.
The ballot initative was challenged by the state’s Chamber of Commerce, which alleged that the petitions were misleading because they referred to the tax-rate increase as a “percent” increase rather than a “percentage point” increase.
“We’re in…shock that they’d stoop so low to take this away from voters,” said Thomas. “Our students absolutely have been cheated.”
But the fight is not over, Thomas and Karvelis promised. As Arizona educators look toward the November election, it’s undeniable that they will have power at the polls. In Oklahoma last week, Republican primary voters ousted dozens of state legislators who were unsupportive of their #RedForEd efforts this spring. The same thing happened in West Virginia’s primary elections this spring.
“We don’t mourn. We organize,” Thomas promised.