Ragan: Stand with teachers who walk out, as they stand for kids and schools
On the eve of what is set to be an historic week, many of us are preparing all across Arizona for something we haven’t seen in generations: an educator walkout. Over the past weeks and months, a movement has been building, one born of necessity and forged in solidarity with our colleagues and communities. #RedForEd has cast a light on the appalling underfunding of education in Arizona. No matter where we go, educators across Arizona are wearing red and having conversations with folks across our communities:
Year after year, dollar after dollar has been cut. The Legislature has stripped over $1 billion in education funding in the last decade while also enacting $13 billion in tax cuts and credits. District Additional Assistance — the capital funds districts rely on to keep classrooms operational — has completely vanished. An educator with 15 years experience and a master’s degree earns $38,000 and may, in fact, qualify for food stamps. Arizona’s student-to-counselor ratio is 924:1; the national standard is 250:1. Thousands of our classrooms each day have no certified teacher. Kids are learning from the very same textbooks their parents used.
We gathered enough momentum in these conversations that the governor and the Legislature announced their grand plan: a 20 percent raise for teachers by 2020 and a gradual restoration of District Additional Assistance dollars. But on examination, these plans fall far short. The governor’s plan actually amounts to a 19 percent raise in 3 years, but is both unfunded and relies on his good word beyond the current budget. The Legislature’s paltry restoration of DAA is far from guaranteed. And both parties fail to understand that #RedForEd is not just about “teachers” but about educators and education as a whole. Any plan that leaves behind educational support professionals and excludes capital funding is not going to pass the sniff test.
What’s even more insidious is the governor is contorting the data to make it seem like educators are paid, on average, $12,000 more than they actually get. The Legislature, in this very session, has sent the governor additional tax credit bills that will further deny the state revenue that it needs to meet its constitutional education obligation. The governor has said in the past few days that educators are the ones doing harm to students by taking direct action. In fact, his out-of state benefactors are pumping $3.5 million in political ads into Arizona, hoping to put a spin on the story. It is, after all, an election year and the governor has designs on another term in office.
And so we find ourselves on the eve of a momentous week where educators will walk out. How did we get here? 78 percent of Arizona educators last week voted in favor of a statewide walk out. No educator wants this to happen. We have organized walk ins with our colleagues and parents, showing solidarity while doing our jobs. We have requested, in earnest, meetings with the governor and legislators, only to be rebuffed and maligned in their press conferences. We have done all we can to avoid the coming week. But now is the time.
This is the week to take such action because the Legislature is working on passing a budget before they adjourn and head back to their districts and launch their reelection campaigns. The timing of any direct action is never going to be perfect. Educators know this all too well. Many of us live paycheck to paycheck. But if we don’t act this week, when we have a governor and legislature poised to do their biggest duty — passing a budget — then we never remedy the problem.
So, as educators across Arizona bolster themselves for the coming days — walk-ins Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and a walkout Thursday — I find myself with a couple things to say. First, let me speak of my story. I am a proud Arizonan and proud educator, teaching a subject I’ve always loved: writing. I also hold a teaching certificate in secondary English. I’m also a candidate for the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board. Education is my entire life.
#RedForEd is more than a moment in time for me; it’s the very essence of my career in education. For much of my career, I shared my struggle only with fellow educators. I live paycheck to paycheck. I piece work together, picking up extra classes and lessons where I can. I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering if I’ll ever get to retire, knowing that the answer is most likely not. I’ve made the choice to buy supplies for classes rather than paying to see a doctor. If I suddenly came into vast wealth, I would still show up and teach. It’s a calling. My heart, my mind and my soul all come to life when I’m in the classroom. #RedForEd has given me the courage to tell my story publicly and to amplify the stories of my fellow educators.
So, on the eve of this momentous week, I find myself wanting to remind my fellow educators of how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. If you choose to walk out, I stand with you. If you choose to stay in the classroom, I stand with you. I’ve always been proud to call you colleagues and friends. I’m even more proud in sharing this experience with you. The days ahead promise to be challenging. But when have we ever been afraid of a challenge? The nature of our profession is perseverance through challenge.
To the governor and legislators, I wish only to say that the power to avert the walk out is squarely on your shoulders. In holding your respective offices, you are empowered to fully fund education. A legacy of tax cuts and decimated education funding have brought us to this week. The choice is yours, and the next days will tell Arizonans more about you than your campaign literature ever can.
And to the community at large, I ask for your solidarity and support in the coming days. The misinformation being thrown at us by special interests will muddy the waters. Swim on. Let the governor and your legislators know that you demand full funding for education. Make sure that any plan includes educational support professionals and capital funding. Interrogate candidates for office — me included — and find out where we stand on education issues. Make sure you check in on the educators and families in your lives. Some districts will need to close schools for the duration of the walk out. We must ensure no child goes hungry and that all students are safe at the schools that remain open. When it counts the most, stand with us as we stand for your kids and our schools. I remain hopeful we can find a solution before Thursday’s walk out.