Originally Published: April 18, 2018 6:05 a.m.
You will likely be seeing red today. Around school buildings, in the crosswalks, and particularly inside the schools themselves.
In recent weeks local teachers and their supporters have been participating in #RedForEd, a grassroots movement bringing to the attention of all listeners, and especially lawmakers, the need to restore pre-2008 school funding and increase salaries to the national median.
The reason you will be seeing red in the schools is because local educators have decided to conduct another “walk-in,” supporting their plight and that of other educational personnel – a move that does not interfere with the educational process for students.
That means no walkout – YET.
While Gov. Doug Ducey this past week pledged 20 percent raises over the next three years, the challenge is not everyone believes he can or will do it. Meaning: Nothing is in writing, the ink has not dried on the non-existent document.
Believing Ducey or not, why are teachers still pushing? Public schools in Arizona, since the height of the Great Recession have seen their budgets cut by millions of dollars.
Would the 20 percent level the playing field? Yes. Would it bring us out of the nation’s cellar when it comes to educational funding? Not necessarily.
For a decade, school districts were forced to amend their budgets to compensate for the losses, although they did not cut teachers’ wages. The teachers did not receive raises, and programs – such as curriculum, special education, building repairs, etc. and more – were cut or their budgets were frozen.
To bring the teachers a major increase – and 20 percent is major! – leaves support staff and the other programs behind. It would be like strengthening one of the legs of a stool, leaving the others ready to collapse.
Still, other people may be seeing red because they think teachers are getting too much attention. They actually might be growing tired of the movement, or glaze over when they see another story or headline about teachers.
That’s understandable. At the same time, when did our children – our future leaders, CEOs, mechanics, accountants, secretaries, … even teachers – no longer matter?
Consider also the great number of fixes approved by the state in recent years but not necessarily followed, or adhered to, by lawmakers themselves.
In 2000, the Legislature approved SB 1007 (also known as Proposition 301), which included various funding increases for public schools, community colleges and universities. The ballot measure approved by voters also required “automatic inflation adjustments in the state aid to education base level or other components of a school district’s revenue control limit.”
In 2010, K-12 school districts and charter schools alleged the state ignored Prop. 301. The schools were shorted necessary funding required under the measure, they said. That led to, in 2016, Proposition 123, designed to increase education funding by $3.5 billion over the course of 10 years by allocating money from the general fund and increasing annual distributions of the state land trust permanent funds to education.
Since then Prop. 123 has been challenged, with naysayers arguing that the measure violated the original federal law that granted Arizona 10 million acres of federal land to support schools. This spring Congress offered bill language to clear that up. At issue now is the money that has already been distributed under Proposition 123.
How can Arizona have quality education if we can’t afford quality teachers and the measures to fix it end up in court? How can Prescott hire quality educators on an average salary that is even lower than the state median of $45,000?
The fact is, we can’t.
Since the beginning of this school year, Arizona has lost at least 1,000 teachers, and 52 percent of teaching positions are vacant or filled by someone underqualified. With turnover that high, students don’t have a chance.
Everyone has a right to education, and a right to quality education. When is Arizona going to start giving students that right – moving the system financially from the red and into the black?