Arizonans wore red Wednesday to protest low teacher salaries, which makes it hard to recruit and retain teachers, just a day after the West Virginia teachers’ strike ended with the teachers receiving a five percent pay increase.
West Virginia teachers’ pay was ranked 48th in the nation, while Arizona elementary school teacher’s pay ranks 50th in the nation at $42,474, according to Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
The wear #RedForEd movement developed after Littleton Elementary School District music teacher Noah Karvelis started a Twitter conversation about what Arizona teachers should do with Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas asking if Arizona teachers would strike next and what they should do. Thomas suggested that teachers start by wearing red to protest their low pay.
“We’re supportive of #RedforEd and all of the amazing educators across Arizona. We need long-term solutions to increase investments in public education – early childhood education through community colleges and universities – so we can meet the long-term goals of the Education Progress Meter,” said Christine M. Thompson, president & CEO of Expect More Arizona. “Individuals can help by learning about the issues, sharing their voice, and voting for candidates who prioritize investments in all of education, recognizing that doing so strengthens our communities and economy.”
At the Arizona Education Association’s press conference on Wednesday, Amy Ball, a kindergarten teacher from the Madison Elementary School District said she moved to Arizona to make a difference.
Ball said she feels guilty for urging her niece to move here, because her niece could earn $62,000 a year as a teacher in Michigan, instead of the $20,000 less she makes now as a teacher here in Arizona.
“Arizona ranks at the bottom for per-student funding, and we have one of the highest rates of teacher turnover, evidenced by our major teacher crisis. Why? Because school districts like mine and the teachers who work in them are forced to do more with less and then act as if nothing is wrong,” Ball said.
“Expectations and limitations increase, while funding decrease,” Ball said. “The teachers are the ones we need to raise up and recognize the critically important and hard work that teachers across our Valley and across our state are doing to keep our students safe and to raise student expectations.”
Ball said Arizona teachers received a 1.06 percent raise from the state this year and that “they deserve better.”
“Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions,” Ball said. “If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.”
Amber Gould, who teaches English and student council in the Glendale Union High School District, said not a single week has gone by in her seven years of teaching when people haven’t asked if she’s going to leave the profession for a better paying career.
Gould said teachers and classrooms are underfunded across the state “and this has been going on for decades.”
When Gould was younger she said her Mother decided to become a teacher, so she sat her kids down for an honest talk about how that would affect them financially.
“My Mom was a waitress at the time. She knew that going to be a teacher, she would take a drastic cut in pay,” Gould said. “She wouldn’t be able to afford some of the things we had grown accustomed to as kids and that’s a decision she had to make and a decision that no family should have to face when a parent or a family member wants to go and be a teacher.”
Gould said her niece, who is a member of the Future Educators of America, told her how excited she is to go into public education.
“I want her to maintain that excitement. I don’t want her to look at classroom conditions and the lack of funding and the fact that she has to crowdfund for classroom resources,” Gould said.
Teachers should not be leaving the classroom after five years for a better financial future for their families, Gould said.
“It’s no surprise to me that teachers are very frustrated right now. Their voices are not being heard, that even though their dilemma has been widely publicized for years, it’s not being addressed by the governor and the legislature,” said Thomas, a social studies teacher from Mesa who serves as president of the Arizona Education Association.
“We have the third-highest class sizes in the nation, and study after study indicates that we have the worst teacher salaries in the nation and so it should be no surprise that Arizona teachers now teach in classrooms in California, Nevada, Utah, West Virginia, and New Mexico – states that pay their teachers more than what they pay in Arizona,” Thomas said.
The other 49 states in the nation know better how to retain and attract teachers than Arizona does, and teachers are showing that frustration today by wearing #RedForEd, Thomas said.
“This problem could be solved by the end of the year. We have a session going on right now. The dollars are in our state. We could increase revenue. We could bring in the resources that teachers need to do the job they were hired to do and that is to be successful with their students,” Thomas said. “But Arizona teachers have no confidence that they’re going to see any difference in the legislators they’ve seen for the last three years or the governor they’ve seen for the last three years.”
Then Thomas announced that AEA had endorsed a candidate for governor and introduced that candidate who spoke at the press conference. That was not what most people were expecting from the press conference, and KTAR News 92.3 FM abruptly cut off its live feed of the event.
There were concerns that #RedForEd was testing the waters for a strike, especially after Oklahoma teachers said on Monday that they had reached a breaking point negotiating with their legislators for a $5,000 raise and were actively discussing a strike. Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation in teacher salaries.
Many parents, students, and other community members joined teachers in wearing red Wednesday to show their support for teachers, the work they do and higher pay for their important role in shaping our youth for the future.
Teachers also took to social media to tell about the passion that drives them to educate children, show what they do, and explain why working conditions and salaries on par with other professionals are important.