‘This Was Our Moment:’ Arizona Rallies For Education Funding

By Mariana Dale, Casey Kuhn, Lauren Gilger
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 3:20pm
Updated: Thursday, April 12, 2018 - 10:39am

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(Photo by Jackie Hai - KJZZ)
Teachers prepare for a walk-in at Mountain View High School in Mesa Wednesday morning.

At least 1,000 schools in the Valley planned to participate in a “walk-in” demonstration to show support for public education and demand more funding from Arizona leaders.

Hundreds of teachers, students and community members with dogs and children in tow came early to rally and line the sidewalks around Ironwood High School in Glendale.

First to show up were a future-teacher group, including Ironwood senior Sydney Roach.

“Teachers impact everyone that exist in our future,” she said. “They touch everyone in some way at any age from so many different walks of life. And if we want to change our future we start with kids.”

Roach also has a parent who works in the district.

She was one of the dozens of students who came in red with homemade signs, cutouts to take pictures in and a big poster board for people to sign about why they support the #RedForEd movement.

“Everyone has teachers that they hate and everyone has teachers that they love, but when you find a teacher that you really do love they sort of stick with you for a while,” said Niko Cocuzza, a freshman at Pinnacle High School.

He wore a red bowtie and stood with at least 300 people rallying on the corner of Mayo and Black Mountain Boulevards.  

“I believe that teachers don’t really get paid enough for the work that they do,” Cocuzza said.

MORE: Twitter Updates: Arizona Teachers Stage Walk-Ins
 
‘This Was Our Moment’

(Photo by Mariana Dale - KJZZ)
Monica Flint speaks to a crowd at Pinnacle High School.

As a kid, Monica Flint remembers, she lined up her stuffed animals and took attendance.

Now a teacher of 16 years, she’s seen reductions in public education that froze her salary for years, and she’s photocopied textbooks when there aren’t enough materials for her class.

“The moment came and this was our moment,” Flint said. “We’re here, we’re not ready to give up or give in.”

Flint’s level of experience is becoming increasingly rare in Arizona. The Arizona Department of Education found almost half of new teachers hired in 2013 were no longer teaching three years later.

National studies show 46 percent of new teachers leave the classroom within five years.

Teacher salaries are one reason that contributes to educators leaving the profession.

The Morrison Institute at ASU found elementary school teacher pay in Arizona, adjusted for cost of living, to be 50th in the nation.

Ironwood history teacher Justin McLellan is quitting the profession after 15 years of teaching because of the low pay.

“I’ve been frozen 10 of the 15 years and the raises that I did get weren’t competitive with inflation, so it forced me to look at some other avenues,” McLellan said. “So I picked up some second jobs, a third job, in the private sector.”

A post in the group Arizona Educators United garnered more than 600 comments from teachers who work more than one job to make ends meet. Many take on extra responsibilities at school and others bartend, bake cakes and sell houses to bring in more income.

MORE: 'The Stress Of My Job Was Making Me Sick' And More Reasons Arizona Teachers Quit

Arizona schools are aging faster than districts can pay to repair them.

Fifteen years ago the state School Facilities Board had $930 million to give to schools for repairs. Today, it’s about $300 million.

Teachers have shared photos on social media of crumbling textbooks, broken furniture and leaking roofs to demonstrate the lack of capital funding for schools.

"Other schools in this state have the most unbelievable conditions, rats in the classroom, desks that are falling apart, books that don't even support their curriculum and so we need to support everybody in the state," said Julie Schenk, a fifth-grade teacher at Fireside Elementary who is also the mom of a Pinnacle High School student.

“I want to be able to send my child to any school in the state and know that they’re going to have a good atmosphere and a good education and we can’t do that right now,” Schenk said.

A 'Political Circus' Or Way To Help Kids?

Gov. Doug Ducey said this week he will meet with policymakers and administrators, but not teachers. He called the Red For Ed movement a “political circus.”

The movement has given local politicians, mainly Democrats, a place to come out and stump.

(Photo by Jackie Hai - KJZZ)
State representative Isela Blanc speaks at Broadmor Elementary School in Tempe. "It's 2018," she said. "We're hurting, and we're ready."

Democratic state senator Martin Quezada came out to talk to those gathering in Glendale and spoke about growing up in and going to the Peoria Unified School District, which Ironwood High is part of.

Democratic candidate for Arizona's 8th Congressional District Hiral Tipirneni spoke at Mountain Ridge High School, where her three children have gone as students.

The effort itself, organized in part by Arizona Educators United, is teacher-led.

The group started in March and has spread to teachers in more than 1,000 schools. There was a powder keg of frustration from years of cuts, salary freezes and deteriorating school conditions — Red For Ed was the spark.

Many teachers contend the rallies aren’t just about salaries for teachers, but education funding as a whole.

MORE: Arizona's ELL Classrooms Struggle With Teacher Shortages, Low Graduation Rates

"It's our way of helping the kids,” said Paradise Valley Unified School District counselor James Marshall. "The more funding we get the more we can help the kids...  Not just for our pay, but for the schools in general."

The teachers are not alone. Some of the locals who made up the rally at Ironwood were a band parent, a retired teacher of 30 years who now works part time and a community member who has grandkids in schools at the district and a daughter who is a teacher there.

Nearly everyone on both the Ironwood campus and across the street at Desert Valley Elementary School wore red, from kindergartners in red tutus to retirees in red polos.

The support bolsters the movement which held the statewide walk-ins to get a tally of how many people might support a walk-out. The organizers in Glendale had handouts with URLs or a poster with a scannable code to encourage everyone who came to check in.

And, seond-grade teacher Melissa Larance at Desert Valley who organized her walk-in across the street said to those gathered that it’s not an if, but when teachers are going to walk out.

“I’m interested to see who’s listening. Are the state legislators listening, is the public listening to what’s happening? Because I see talented teachers flooding out of the classroom,” McLellan at Ironwood said. “If there’s so many teachers leaving, who’s going to be left?”

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