Last Thursday and Friday Page school teachers joined forces with their fellow Arizona teachers and staged a walk-out in protest against low teacher pay, low staff pay and severely underfunded schools. Arizona teachers statewide are asking for better wages for themselves as well as school support staff – such as bus drivers, teachers aids and maintenance workers – and better school funding.
Last week’s walk out was the latest in a month of walk-ins, walk-outs and other protests performed by Arizona educators under the Red for Ed initiative. Earlier in the month Arizona governor Doug Ducey told teachers he’d give them a 20 percent raise by 2020. While teachers agree that a raise would be welcome, they say bigger issues still need to be addressed and they continued with their Red for Ed initiative, walking out last Thursday and Friday. They returned to their classrooms on Monday.
The teachers called it a walk-out, the state called it a strike. Legally there’s a big difference between the two. In Arizona walk-outs aren’t illegal but strikes are, which gives Gov. Doug Ducey the right to fire any teacher who participated in the walk-out if he wants to. Prior to the teacher walk-out Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas threatened to de-certify striking teachers.
Taking away the certifications of 50,000 teachers would be a foolish thing to do, said Russ Skubal, a Page High School teacher and boys basketball coach.
“The state is already 2,000 teachers short,” he said. “Do they really want to be short 52,000 teachers?”
Kendra Tarket, Vice President of the Page Education Association, was one of those who walked-out last Thursday and stood on Lake Powell Blvd. holding a sign.
“This is about way more than teacher raises,” she said. “We need more funding for maintenance and repairs, for transportation costs. Our district operates 24 buses bringing kids in and out from the reservation every day. And that doesn’t count our buses taking students to athletic or other events.
“And most of our computers are nine or ten years old. We can’t keep up with some of the current science curriculum with the old technology we have. There have been times when I thought to myself, `I could have taught that better if l had better resources.’
“In order to get our schools and classrooms up to the level they should be we need to restore funding to pre-2008 levels,” Tarket continues. “Arizona has decreased education funding 23 percent over the last ten years. In that same period the state has increased prison spending 70 percent. The state of Arizona spends $23,000 per inmate, but only $3,500 per student. That shows how backward Arizona’s priorities are.”
Arizona ranks 49th or 50th in teacher pay, depending on which study you look at. More than one teacher at the walk-out said they’ve done Go-Fund-Me accounts to raise money for classroom supplies. Almost every teacher has a story of spending their own money to buy everything from pencils and crayons to bookshelves and backpacks.
Josh Adams, who teaches AVID, chemistry and biology at Page High School would love to see Arizona experiment with what it could accomplish if they made education spending a priority.
“My reason for being out here today is less about teacher raises, though that would be nice too, and more about getting school funding up to a level where we can be competitive as a state,” he said.
“Instead of our state telling us that big increases in funding won’t make a big difference I want them to instead ask, `Let’s just see what happens if we do increase school funding.’ Let’s see if the economy improves. Let’s see if the prison population goes down. Let’s see if an educated work force attracts high-paying jobs to the state.
“Instead of the state saying, `This won’t work,’ I love to see them say, `let’s try it!’
“That’s why I’m out here today, and if striving for that gets me fired then that’s okay. The ultimate goal is to get our kids what they need for a proper education.”