About 2.500 teachers and education advocates wearing #RedForEd rallied at the Arizona State Capitol on Wednesday evening, calling for a 20 percent increase in teacher salaries and the restoration of per-pupil funding for public schools to 2008 levels.
Arizona elementary school teachers’ pay ranks 50th in the nation at $42,474 and Arizona high school teachers’ pay ranks 49th in the nation at $47,890, according to Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
“I am Red For Ed, because I cannot do my best teaching for my phenomenal sixth graders and work every evening two jobs,” said Josh Martin, a math teacher from Chandler, who also is a tutor and balloon artist at a local restaurant. “My wife works two jobs, because we rely upon my main job, my 50 hour a week job as an educator.”
“I am Red For Ed because my own children need their father at home,” Martin said. “Even with a Master’s degree, I have to work three jobs just to make ends meet. Well to actually almost make ends meet, that’s right 18 years in education, a Master’s degree and three jobs and I’m still unable to support my family.”
What Martin describes is not unusual. Many teachers in Arizona have one or more part-time jobs to provide financially for their family’s needs.
“If we want to keep the best and brightest in our classrooms and finally end this teacher crisis once and for all that means that we must increase our pay to levels that are competitive with the rest of the region,” said Noah Karvelis, a Littleton Elementary School District music teacher and organizer of Arizona Educators United, one of the groups that coordinated Arizona’s Day of Action for Education.
“We know that our teachers aren’t leaving Arizona to go the the state that is the second lowest in teacher pay or the third worst state for teachers,” Karvelis said.”They’re going to Colorado, they’re going to Utah, they’re going to New Mexico, and you know why? Because they can make $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 more than they can teaching here. That is unacceptable, and that is why we have a teacher crisis.”
“For that reason, we must compete with these states and that means asking, no that’s the wrong word, demanding that all teachers in Arizona be given a 20 percent pay increase,” Karvelis said. “That’s what we need to compete, that’s what we need to fight for, that’s what we deserve.”
With about 60,000 teachers in the state, a 20 percent raise would bring the average salary of an Arizona teacher, which is just under $47,000 for fiscal year 2018, up to about $56,400, which is close to the national median and would cost the state between $720 to $750 million, Dr. Anabel Aportela, director of research for Arizona Association of School Business Officials and Arizona School Boards Association.
This does not include the cost of additional teachers or inflation, but it does include 20 percent for employee-related expenses, Aportela said.
But the average teacher salary figure is misleading, because many new teachers earn in the low $30,000 range and to get near that $47,000, they need to continue working for 10 to 15 or more years, Aportela said.
Students turned out to support their teachers at the rally as well.
“We’re out here because not only has the governor made an enemy of the students, but he’s made an enemy of the teachers,” said Jordan Harb, co-organizer of the student-led March for Our Lives that was held at the Capitol on Saturday. “Believe it or not, teacher pay affects us too. I stand with my teachers.”
At the Phoenix rally, Alexis Aguirre, a second-grade dual language teacher said, “I am the product of poverty, parents afflicted with drug addiction, domestic violence and the foster care system, but I am also the product of what teachers and public schools can do to change the course of a child’s life.”
Aguirre, who teaches at Encanto School in the Osborn Elementary School District, said she was the first in her family to graduate high school and went on to earn her Master’s degree in education.
“I see myself reflected in the faces of my students,” Aguirre said. “I know that our students, our teachers, our support staff that we deserve better than last place in education.”
Teachers and education advocates also rallied Wednesday in Tucson, Flagstaff, Show Low, Vail, Sierra Vista, Kingman, White Mountains, Prescott and Yuma as part of Arizona’s Day of Action for Education, organized by Arizona Educators United, a grassroots group of teachers, with help from Save Our Schools Arizona and Arizona PTA.
In Vail, Becky McComish, who has taught for more than 10 years, said the goal is to highlight the challenges educators face including crowded classrooms, low per-pupil funding, low salaries and teachers who leave the state so they can better support their families.
“If we don’t properly fund classrooms and if we don’t give teachers a livable wage, it’s going to affect the entire education system,” McComish said in an interview with Tucson News Now. “If we don’t have teachers in the classrooms our students can’t learn, so we need to address it today.”
Arizona Educators United’s other demands include competitive pay for all education support professionals, a salary plan that provides an annual raise, and a halt to tax cuts until Arizona’s per-pupil funding reaches the national average.
“Our education support professionals who are absolutely vital to the very functioning of our schools are paid a competitive wage,” Karvelis said.
The low pay and education environment has led Jeff Taylor, chair of the Advanced Placement Academy at Flagstaff High School who teaches AP chemistry and environmental science and was named 2014 Coconino County Teacher of the Year, to leave the state.
“Despite the accolades, my salary was actually worth about $1,000 less than it was in my very first year of teaching, when adjusted for inflation, despite more years of experience and more professional development that allowed me to earn these honors,” Taylor said in his letter of resignation.
“Since I arrived I have seen my class sizes grow from 26 to 33 per class,” Taylor said in his letter of resignation. “I have seen the peripheral expectations of meetings and paperwork and parent contacts increase, while also seeing the disturbances to the schedule due to standardized testing and other state mandates increase.”
“Ultimately, however, the clincher was seeing my daughter’s educational experience and realizing that I cannot wait to see change happen. An entire generation of students is suffering while we wait,” Taylor said in his resignation letter. “I have watched my daughter enter our public schools and be placed into a 3rd-grade class of 34 students. A well-meaning, award-winning teacher was simply unable to provide the attention and services my intelligent, highly-sensitive, dyslexic daughter needed and she fell behind in reading, writing, and mathematics. In parent-teacher conferences, the teacher literally said all her available time is sucked up with classroom management of disruptive students and those with extremely-high needs.”
Business, education and nonprofit leaders say that raising Arizona teachers’ salaries to the U.S. median would do more than recruit and retain quality teachers. Elevating teachers’ salaries will improve measures of student success, like reading and math proficiency and the graduation rate, said Dick Foreman, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Business & Education Coalition.
Karvelis started a Twitter conversation 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.
On March 7, Arizonans wore red to protest low teacher salaries, which makes it difficult to recruit and retain teachers, AEA held a news conference where teachers described the hardships created by low school funding and teacher salaries, and AEA endorsed a candidate for governor.
Since then, Arizona Educators United teachers and advocates have held protests at the capitol, visited legislators, protested outside KTAR News 92.3 FM during a broadcast featuring Gov. Doug Ducey, organized a sickout last week closed nine schools in Pendergast Elementary School District in West Phoenix and Glendale, and a rally for Chandler Unified School District employees.
“This amazing grassroots organization of educators, parents and even student from all around the state that are done with the cuts, done with the unreasonable, unsustainable workloads and done with not being able to give their students what they need, which is a chance to be successful,” said Joe Thomas of president of the Arizona Education Association and a social studies teacher from Mesa.
The important thing now is to keep this momentum going, and tell people about what’s needed, what’s working and what could be done better if teachers had the resources they need, Thomas said.
“The stories that you tell about your students and your schools will change the hearts and minds of the people that don’t know what it is that you do everyday,” Thomas said. “Against all odds you’re helping your children achieve, but imagine what we could do and what our students could do if we had the support we needed.”
Slideshow: Teachers demand raises, restored per pupil funding in rally in Phoenix by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews