Supporting #RedForEd: Lack of funding creates path to failure for all

I have seen the value of educators my entire life. My aunt, my uncle, my grandparents, and even my mother have poured themselves into their work and shown that teaching is far from a 9-to-5 job. Between lesson planning and grading on weekends, to showing up for their students like second parents at their plays and sporting events, teachers deserve the same support they have given their students from the day they started teaching.

Now, teachers are fed up for the current support for public education in Arizona. Will teachers strike in this state? With less than 24 hours until the proposed “teacher walkout,” closures are on a per-district basis, with some trying to stay open in order to prevent makeup days, and others, like the Chandler Unified School District (CUSD), preparing for such an event. On Apr. 12, Gov. Ducey proposed a net 20 percent increase in teacher salaries, with nine percent in the fall, and two additional five percent raises the in the following years, combined with the one percent given in Jan. If the plan were to go through, the average Ariz. teacher salary would be $58,130 by 2020, a noticeable increase from the current average of $46,949.

Why has it come to teachers striking then? Sure, teachers may see up to a 20 percent increase by 2020, but if the only change that comes in education funding is for the teachers, the change will be for naught. Teachers need school funding to return to pre-Recession levels. Teachers need to have fewer than three dozen students in their classes. Teachers need support staff and non-teacher workers to have a pay increase as well, because schools cannot run on teaches alone.

Why is it important, even decisive, that teachers’ demands are taken seriously this time? Maybe because Ariz. educators typically flee for jobs in neighboring states within three years, if they stay in-state after college at all. Or maybe it’s because the droves of teachers who leave teaching completely after any amount of years leave schools scraping the bottom of the barrel for qualified teachers, and, thanks to Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ), now certifying those without teaching training, so long as they have worked five years in fields relevant to the subject in which they are to teach.

For many teachers, educating the future generations was and is their passion, and low pay and benefits are simply a roadblock in pursuing that passion. Educators choose their profession for the love of their students and their subjects, and cannot imagine having to leave their field. Asking for support is hardly selfish for these teachers, who want to see their students rank higher nationally, yet can only be accomplished if class sizes shrink from their current thirty pupil range.

If public education continues to be put last, how can we ensure students at public schools do not fall through the cracks? Arizona students deserve the attention and support that they are lacking now, and ultimately this cannot happen if teachers’ voices are not heard.

If teachers are not paid more, they will have no choice but to leave. At the end of the day, teachers can only sacrifice so much for their students before they are forced to think about their families and livelihood and leave teaching, or the state itself, for a better opportunity to support their family.

A broader consequence is school choice. If public school teachers continue to leave, we are only punishing students by hiring unqualified teachers to fill vacancies, or worse, leaving the vacancies open and pushing class sizes to nearly forty students. Public schools thus continue to fall behind, and parents start to look to charter and private schools for their children, only widening the gap in funding for public schools and continuing the cycle. How can we raise our performance in Ariz. schools if teachers cannot get to know each of their students?

If teachers are paid more, but schools are given no increase in per-pupil funding, why give teachers a raise at all? Their paychecks will continue to be eaten away at through buying supplies for their classrooms and students that the current school budgets simply cannot afford.

I cannot vouch for the logistical ability of the teachers’ demands to be met ten-fold. I do not know if Ariz. will see a walkout of W. Va. proportions, or what that will mean for students in Arizona. I do know, though, that if legislators choose not to be open to the current discussion in its entirety, education in Arizona will only further deteriorate, leaving students the ones to bear the consequences of an disproportional budget and a shattered system.

If teachers see striking as the only way to better the future for education funding in this state, I support them with everything in me. Teachers deserve better. Students deserve better. Arizona can do better.