RedForEd Movement is not done yet in Arizona

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The new year has begun with a flurry of teacher union (#RedForEd) actions across the country, and may be returning soon here in Arizona.

Axios reports No end in sight for nationwide wave of teacher strikes:

In the past year, teachers across the country have initiated a sustained protest movement, challenging school districts and elected officials to allocate funds for increased salaries, benefits and resources to meet the needs of students.

The state of play: The string of walkouts, introduced by West Virginia educators who led a 9-day strike in February 2018, shows no signs of slowing or stopping. Already this year, there have been strikes in Los Angeles and Denver that have resulted in school district concessions. West Virginia teachers led a second statewide action Tuesday, and a similar picket line is expected to form in Oakland beginning Thursday.

The big picture: This movement is evolving into something deeper than mere calls for school funding, teacher wages and benefits. Demands for smaller class sizes, fewer annual standardized tests, and opposition to the expansion of private-school voucher programs and charter schools have become a rallying cry.

Highlights of success since the movement started:

  • On Tuesday, educators in West Virginia declared victory after state lawmakers rejected a bill that would have opened the state’s first charter schools, made it easier to fire teachers without considering seniority during layoffs, and used public dollars to fund private schools. Despite the death of the bill that sent them to the picket lines, the teachers will remain on strike on Wednesday.

  • Teachers in Denver last week ended a 3-day walkout — the first strike there in 25 years. Their union and the city’s public school system reached a deal to add $23 million to fund a 7–11% increase in base salaries next year, as well as a 20-step salary hike schedule.

  • Last month, LA teachers representing the country’s second largest school district reached a tentative deal to conclude a 6-day strike. They agreed upon a 6% raise, a significant concession from the school district on standardized tests, and promises of smaller class sizes, additional nurses and counselors.

  • Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation last May to increase teachers’ wages by 20% over the next three years. However, the deal fell short of initial demands. (See below).

  • Oklahoma’s largest teachers union ended a walkout last April that closed public schools statewide for 9 days after negotiating $479 million in funding for the next school year. They were seeking $600 million.

Other states that have gone on strike over the past year include Illinois and Colorado. In Kentucky, teachers lauded a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court last December after it struck down a controversial pension reform law, which has prompted thousands of teachers to protest and close schools.

What’s next: Thousands of teachers in Oakland will protest Thursday over the district’s plan to close several dozen schools serving predominantly black and Latino students. They are also seeking salary increases and funding for resources.

Earlier this year I posted that Arizona GOP renews its war on public education with retaliation bills against the #RedForEd movement.

One of those retaliation bills from Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) passed the House Education Committee this week, setting up renewed activity by the #RedForEd movement here in Arizona. The Arizona Capitol Times reports, House panel approves bill to quash political activity in classrooms:

The president of the state’s largest teachers’ union warned a House committee Monday of a potential Red for Ed resurgence if they advanced a contentious bill from Rep. Kelly Townsend, which they did (on a party-line vote of 8-5).

Townsend’s House Bill 2015, which opponents view as retaliation for last year’s strike, would prohibit school district employees from using school resources to espouse a political or religious ideology or face a fine of up to $5,000. Democrats and opponents argued the bill would have a chilling effect on teachers without solving an existing problem.

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Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas cautioned the committee before they voted on Townsend’s proposal.

“I’m telling you right now if this goes through tonight, I’m going to be on television for the rest of the week talking about this against the backdrop of West Virginia,” he told the committee.

He said the problem as Townsend and supporters of the bill described it – teachers indoctrinating their students based on their own personal beliefs – is not a widespread issue. And he argued state law prohibiting the use of school resources to influence elections, such as endorsing or opposing a candidate during work hours, is sufficient.

Following West Virginia teachers’ decision, Thomas said Arizona educators were already inundating him with questions of what they would do next.

“Are you threatening to have a walk-out if this bill passes?” Townsend asked.

Thomas insisted he was not making threats, but emphasized again that representatives should consider the timing, warning Townsend’s bill could ignite anger that is already stirring.

In any case, the bill will now advance to the House Rules Committee before a vote on the House floor.

Townsend did amend the bill to remove a provision allowing parents to file suit against teachers in their districts in violation of the law. Her amendment adopted by the committee also removed language from the original bill that specified violators may be fired.

But the adjustments she made did not appease opponents who waited hours to speak against the proposed legislation; the bill was the last the committee considered during the marathon hearing that ran until 10 p.m. Monday.

Organizers of the Red for Ed movement that led to a statewide teachers’ strike last year have already been surveying parents and members of Arizona Educators United to gauge interest in a variety of actions the movement could take this year.

A copy of the educators’ survey posted on Facebook asked whether respondents were satisfied with last year’s outcome, which actions they felt were most effective, which of the original demands is most relevant this year and whether they are committed to taking further action.

And a copy of the parents’ survey asked what should be prioritized in terms of K-12 funding, whether respondents support the movement and this: “Can Arizona students afford to wait for funding or do we need immediate action from the state Legislature?” The options for the latter included an indication that the Legislature needs to act, that schools can wait for funding or that “districts need to be more accountable with the funding they receive.”

On the education funding front, Republicans are once again advancing a regressive sales tax ballot measure in 2020 asking voters to raise a 0.6-cent sales tax earmarked for education to a full penny in an effort to mollify education proponents. It will not be nearly enough, but it would allow the Arizona legislature to once again disregard its constitutionally prescribed duty to adequately fund public education through general revenue, something which would require cancelling corporate welfare tax cuts enacted over the past decade which have greatly reduced state revenue.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports, Key Republicans compromise on sales tax hike for education:

Three Republican lawmakers have reached a consensus on a plan to ask voters to raise a sales tax for education funding.

Sens. Kate Brophy McGee and Sylvia Allen, and Rep. Michelle Udall, all had the same fundamental idea – put a question on the ballot in 2020 asking voters to raise a 0.6-cent sales tax earmarked for education to a full penny. But the plan initially offered by Allen, and a separate proposal backed by Brophy McGee and Udall, differed on how to spend the roughly $1.1 billion that sales tax would raise annually. Those dollars are currently split among nine “buckets” that dictate how the funding is allocated.

Their compromise consolidates funding distribution to three buckets – 75 percent of the funds would go to K-12 public schools, 20 percent would go to state universities and the remaining 5 percent would be left for community colleges and tribal colleges.

More money would be provided to each bucket. That’s because raising the sales tax to a full penny would generate roughly $450 million more than what the 0.6-cent levy now generates, according to budget estimates.

And if approved by voters in 2020, the tax and funding model will be voter protected, meaning future legislators won’t be able to sweep the funding from educators.

Riiight. The GOP-controlled Arizona legislature is ignoring the Voter Protection Act on a number of fronts right now, including school vouchers and a sub-minimum wage in violation of voter approved citizen initiatives. Anti-democratic authoritarian Republicans reject the will of the voters on citizen initiatives (Updated). Republicans are not to be trusted.

[T]he compromise allows all three lawmakers to get funding for key education programs they support.

For Allen, a Snowflake Republican, each community college school district will get a flat $1.5 million in funding of the roughly $50 million in funding the higher sales tax is estimated to generate. Allen has argued in favor of providing an infusion of cash to rural community colleges regardless of how many students they serve compared to schools in urban areas.

As for Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Udall, R-Mesa, the compromise protects roughly $80 million in university research dollars that Allen’s initial proposal swept away.

The new plan also provides $8.5 million between the Department of Education and the Auditor General’s Office to provide oversight of how the dollars are spent, according to Udall.

Amendments to a bill and resolution sponsored by Udall set in motion the passage of their compromise in the House.

Those measures cleared by a 8-4 vote with bipartisan support, but also opposition from both parties.

Democrats like Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, rejected the proposal as an increase of a regressive tax, while a few Republicans characterized the push for a voter-protected tax hike ‒ one that would make it difficult for lawmakers to meddle with ‒ is the wrong way to increase education funding.

“I think if we promote issues like this – increasing sales taxes that are already high in Arizona – it’s the wrong solution, and I vote no,” said Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Democrats like Reps. Reginald Bolding of Laveen and Aaron Lieberman of Paradise Valley voted in favor of the tax hike, arguing that while it’s not perfect, it’s better to act now than wait.

This incrementalist argument is how educators got suckered into supporting Governor Doug Ducey’s Prop. 123, which steals money from future generations from the education state trust fund, and his bogus 20% teacher pay raise last year, which was not a raise for all educators, and for which he did not identify any revenue stream to pay for it in future years. In the next economic downturn, you can rest assured that a GOP-controlled Arizona legislature would revert to form and balance the state budget by making draconian cuts to public education funding.

Acting now doesn’t mean that new funding is on its way shortly. If the tax hike were approved by voters in 2020, the tax would not take effect until July 1, 2021.

“This bill is far from perfect, but we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Lieberman said.

Brophy McGee told representatives on the House Education Committee that the Senate will offer identical amendments to a bill and resolution sponsored by Allen, allowing identical measures to move forward in each chamber.

Expect to see some action from the #RedForEd movement in coming weeks as the Governor and legislative leaders negotiate the state budget.