#RedForEd protest a successful first step

Arizona teachers wore red to school Wednesday in protest of what many described as the state’s lethargic response to a teacher crisis that’s driven thousands of qualified educators out of the classroom. Arizona teachers wear red, talk strike amid frustration over low wages:

A group of Arizona teachers spontaneously organized the #RedForEd grassroots effort — which has spurred talks on social media of a possible strike — over the weekend.

Thousands of the state’s classroom teachers participated. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 20,000 people had joined Arizona Educators United, a closed Facebook page teachers created Sunday for the demonstration.

On social media, teachers, parents, supporters, school board members and administrators wrote notes of encouragement and shared pictures of themselves draped in red and touting the hashtags #RedForEd and #AZWhatIsThePlan.

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“I hope that everybody realizes that teachers have legitimate power right now, and we haven’t fully used it yet but we can,” said Noah Karvelis, one of the protest’s organizers and a music teacher at Tres Rios Service Academy in Tolleson.

Karvelis told The Arizona Republic Wednesday that organizers would gather with the state teachers’ union to discuss further steps and acknowledged that the possibility of a strike is “on everyone’s minds.”

Amy Ball, a kindergarten teacher in the Madison Elementary School District, participated in Wednesday’s demonstration. She said teachers are frustrated that pay and working conditions have not significantly improved.

“School districts like mine and the teachers who work in them are forced to do more with less, and then act as if nothing is wrong,” Ball said.”Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions and if we don’t stand for children, then we don’t stand for much.”

So what’s next?

While the effort appears to have galvanized thousands of teachers, the head of the state’s teachers’ union said he was unsure what will happen next.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said he has “not seen this many teachers this frustrated since I’ve been in Arizona.” He called on state leaders to significantly address the issue this legislative session.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican-led Legislature are currently in the midst of budget negotiations.

Thomas said teachers have “no confidence” that state leadership will take action, but he stopped short of encouraging a statewide teacher strike.

“A statewide action can take a lot of different forms. I think that with West Virginia, we paid attention once that happened,” he said. “But if you talk to any teacher in West Virginia, it’s months of discussions that lead to that frustration.

“I’m not saying it won’t happen. … What I am saying is I think today is about a positive statement of awareness that there are issues in our schools.”

Starting the day with red

Before and during school Wednesday, teachers, students and parents posted group photos and selfies of themselves wearing red and touting the hashtags #RedForEd and #AZWhatisThePlan.

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On Twitter and Facebook, educators posting were from districts in Chandler, Paradise Valley, Buckeye, Queen Creek, Tempe, Phoenix, Tucson, Gilbert and more.

Save Our Schools Arizona, which is challenging a school-voucher law, created red shirts and sold them for $3, according to its website. Chairwoman Beth Lewis posted that the organization handed them out at the Capitol this week and even delivered some to teachers late Tuesday night.

Some people posted photos of their children or students also wearing red in support.

Others posted on Twitter photos of their cars decked out in red as they headed to school.

Many shared a link to a blog listing the reasons teachers in Arizona should wear red.

Inspired by West Virginia

Karvelis, an organizer of Arizona Educators United, said teachers in Arizona were galvanized by their colleagues in West Virginia.

Teachers there organized a nine-day strike across all 55 West Virginia school districts that was settled Tuesday after the state’s Legislature committed to boosting their pay by 5 percent.

Arizona and West Virginia are among the states that pay their teachers the least. The median pay for Arizona elementary teachers was $42,474 in 2016, ranking 50th nationally according to the Arizona State University Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Arizona’s education system has yet to fully recover from the cost-cutting measures imposed following the Great Recession — a decade ago.

Experts and educators have said low pay, stressful working conditions and perceived lack of respect for the teaching profession are the main causes of the state’s current teacher landscape in which thousands of classroom positions either remain unfilled or staffed by people who are underqualified.

Strike next?

Organizers of Wednesday’s teacher protest described the effort as the “first step” in mobilizing teachers for further action, though did not explicitly say they planned to strike.

But that was the focus of discussion by hundreds of educators on the Arizona Educators United Facebook page and other social media. Comments indicated broad support for a strike, mixed with concern over what such action would mean for participants’ jobs and teaching certificates.

In Arizona, teachers who participate in a statewide strike are at risk of losing their teaching credentials and jobs.

If a statewide teacher strike were to occur in Arizona, it would likely require greater mobilization efforts than West Virginia.

West Virginia consists of about 20,000 teachers in 55 school districts. Arizona is estimated to have about 60,000 active classroom teachers in more than 200 school districts and a public charter sector of 550 schools.

Resha Gentry-Ballance, president of the Classroom Teachers Association for the Phoenix Union High School District, said some teaches are pushing for more action.

“We’ve been letting our state legislators know how frustrated we are and I think my colleagues are concerned that doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere,” Gentry-Ballance said.

She said a movement like a strike would need to come from the organic grassroots movement.

“My colleagues are really, really frustrated. So could it lead to something like that? Maybe so,” she said. “But it would have to come from my colleagues and I … maybe we are getting to that place, I don’t know — we’ll have to see.”

Neither Governor Ducey nor Arizona Senate or House Republican leadership commented publicly about the #RedForEd protest Wednesday. They were probably holed up in their secret lair in discussions with their corporate masters on how they can enact even more tax cuts to dig Arizona’s revenue deficit hole even deeper so that there will never be money available to support public education and teacher pay raises. Teachers argue for tax cut windfall to finance pay raises:

It would take $170 million a year to give Arizona teachers the same 5 percent pay increase West Virginia lawmakers just gave their teachers, and they say there is a new-found pot of cash that would provide about that amount.

The federal tax cut law signed by President Donald Trump in December is expected to boost tax revenue for Arizona by at least $130 million in the coming budget year and possibly as much as $250 million, according to Legislature’s budget analysts and the state Department of Revenue.

But Republican lawmakers aren’t proposing to use the money to boost teacher pay — they see it as a tax increase and instead want tax cuts.

Teachers across the state Wednesday protested what is one of the lowest pay rates in the country, wearing red in a mass showing of support and posted a host of photos on social media.

Noah Karvelis, a music teacher in Tolleson, said Republican leaders’ plan to use the windfall for tax cuts make no sense because teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation.

“You have money, and you an issue on your hands, you have a legitimate crisis on your hands right now, use that money for that,” Karvelis said. He said turnout at his school for the day of protest was amazing.

“As far I’m aware unless somebody was hiding out in a room or something afraid to show their face, we had 100 percent participation,” Karvelis said. “Nobody was out of the loop. Nurses, custodial staff, bus drivers, they all showed up in red today.”

He said it appeared by social media posts that the effort was huge across the state, and the Arizona Educators United Facebook group was nearing 21,000 members Wednesday — just four days after it was created.

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House Speaker J.D. Mesnard defended his push to cut what is seen as a tax windfall when the state conforms its tax code to the new federal tax code. The state does that yearly to ensure a simplified tax system.

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Senate President Steve Yarbrough believes a strike is “improbable.”

“That is an extraordinarily important career, and to walk off the job to the detriment of kids strikes me, pardon the pun, as something that Arizona teachers are too honorable to do,” he said. “I just don’t believe that’s going to happen.”

That’s pretty rich coming from Arizona’s most corrupt state senator who uses his position to write charter school bills to steer state funding to his Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization in order to benefit himself financially.

As Sen. Steve Farley explains in this week’s edition of  The Farley Report:

President Steve Yarbrough is retiring this year [actually he is termed out and is running for the House], but on his way out he is seeking to make a few changes to a couple of his primary areas of interest — expanding private school tax credits and vouchers, and undercutting the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Farley Report readers know I have fought the privatization of public education for my entire career in the Legislature. One of the most egregious programs founded by President Yarbrough is the corporate private school tax credit program.

This program allows corporations to reduce their state income taxes by instead giving money to privately run Student Tuition Organizations (STOs) which take 10% off the top for administration and then pass through the money to scholarships to children who go to private schools. Taxpayer money is indirectly fed in this way to private schools. 

First enacted in 2006 with a cap of $5 million, the cap later that same session was increased to $10 million and automatically increased by 20% each subsequent year. I wish I could have a savings account that grew 20% per year.

This fiscal year the amount lost to the general fund by that tax credit alone — and taken from our public schools — was $74.3 million.

Over the same period of time, corporate taxes of all kinds — especially income taxes — have been cut dramatically, especially by Governor Ducey. [Actually, it was Governor Jan Brewer’s multi-year phased-in corporate welfare tax cut rammed through by House Speaker Kirk Adams, who is now Ducey’s chief of staff, so continuity in bad tax policy.]  In fact they have been cut so dramatically that corporations are no longer needing to use tax credits to reduce their taxes because their taxes are already so low.

We’ve not seen the economic flowering of more jobs and higher wages promised to us by the folks who pushed these tax cuts.

We have seen our public school budgets slashed and teachers leaving the classrooms as they can no longer afford to work for the lowest wages in the nation.

And a side effect has been that corporations are no longer chomping at the bit to get those private school tax credits, so the 20% increase in the cap each year is no longer a concern.

Here is the smackdown, as written by those brilliant nonpartisan economists over at the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) in their own words on page 522 of this year’s Budget Baseline Book, with my translation to follow:

“Although Laws 2006, Chapter 325 provides that the credit cap be increased by 20% in FY 2020, followed by an additional 20% increase in FY 2021, corporations are not expected (in the aggregate) to increase their credit donations beyond FY 2019 levels. By this time, the full tax impact of previously enacted multi-year rate reductions has been realized. For this reason, businesses are not expected to have sufficient tax liability to fully utilize the increased credit-eligible donation limits provided by Chapter 325.”

Translation: We’ve cut corporate taxes so much, the corporations no longer have taxes left to cut!

So when President Yarbrough in his bill SB1467 offered to reduce the growth of the cap from 20% to 2.5% over the next four years in exchange for expanding the private school tax credits and vouchers to home-schooled students and first-year students, he was offering to give away something that no longer mattered in exchange for an expansion to the program.

Democrats did not take this offer. We believe that the entire program should be shut down and the money invested in our public schools so that all our students get an excellent, free, public education. 

SB1467 was amended on the floor to keep the 20% cap increase in place, and it passed on a party-line vote.

It is Arizona’s lawless Tea-Publican legislature and governors who have been harming Arizona’s children for a generation now with their anti-tax and anti-public education policies. As I have explained many times:

Our lawless Tea-Publican Arizona legislature routinely violates two provisions of the Arizona Constitution out of ideological opposition to government, public education, and taxes:

Article XI, Section 6: The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible. The legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be established and maintained in every school district for at least six months in each year, which school shall be open to all pupils between the ages of six and twenty-one years.

Article XI, Section 10.  The revenue for the maintenance of the respective state educational institutions shall be derived from the investment of the proceeds of the sale, and from the rental of such lands as have been set aside by the enabling act approved June 20, 1910, or other legislative enactment of the United States, for the use and benefit of the respective state educational institutions. In addition to such income the legislature shall make such appropriations, to be met by taxation, as shall insure the proper maintenance of all state educational institutions, and shall make such special appropriations as shall provide for their development and improvement.

See generally:

Article IX, Section 3: The legislature shall provide by law for an annual tax sufficient, with other sources of revenue, to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state for each fiscal year. And for the purpose of paying the state debt, if there be any, the legislature shall provide for levying an annual tax sufficient to pay the annual interest and the principal of such debt within twenty-five years from the final passage of the law creating the debt.

Our lawless Tea-Publican legislature has for years been in violation of the Arizona Constitution because: (1) it is failing to provide for the cost of public education, and (2) it refuses to raise taxes sufficient “to defray the necessary ordinary expenses of the state for each fiscal year.”

Vote them out.

NOTE: Arizona’s school year begins in late July or early August for most school districts. Early voting in the Primary Election begins August 1, and the Primary Election is August 28. Maybe delaying the start of the school year with an education strike through Primary Election day would force this issue in the primary. Just a thought.

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