Arizona’s Misguided #RedForEd Teacher Salary Protests
#RedForEd. That’s Arizona teachers’ new slogan in their ongoing battle for higher pay. Organized by teachers’ unions, the RedForEders showed up at the state capitol starting on April 26 wearing red shirts.
Some critics contend the red symbolizes the movement’s ties to socialism. Rightwing hysteria? Red-baiting? A conservative cheap shot? Let’s look at the evidence.
Arizona elementary music school teacher Noah Karvelis of Arizona Educators United led the strike. He is a partisan operative who has worked on several Democratic campaigns. He worked for a Bernie Sanders group — the Bernie Sanders who called himself a socialist — and as campaign manager. Karvelis is a student of “critical pedagogy.” It is a radical philosophy that uses Marxism to develop a radical critique of American society. Here’s an example, a book he recommended last November over Twitter: A Pedagogy of Anticapitalist Antiracism: Whiteness, Neoliberalism, and Resistance in Education by Zachary A. Casey.
Notice that he calls the book “a must-read.” Other tweets from Karvelis call for a radical agenda to be taught in the public schools.
Things more educators should discuss (especially if they work with young (white) men) in the classroom in 2018:
1. Gender, Feminism, & #MeToo
3. Gun Violence
Teaching is political and silence is complicity.
— Noah Karvelis (@Noah__Karvelis) December 10, 2017
Emphasize gun control.
Emphasize toxic/violent masculinity.
Emphasize whiteness/white supremacy.
We have to face uncomfortable topics to stop this. https://t.co/b2Ck6ypqDb
— Noah Karvelis (@Noah__Karvelis) February 16, 2018
Now, Karvelis does not represent the average Arizona teacher. There are 67,000 certified public school teachers in Arizona. Only 20,000 are members of the main teachers’ union, the Arizona Education Association. But he certainly represents the #RedForEd movement. If they’re not socialists, they’re doing a very good imitation.
Governor Ducey caved in to demands for a 20 percent raise. In fact he more than met their demands. Was #RedForEd happy? No, of course not. They still instructed teachers to strike. Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts, no conservative, suggests #RedForEd misled teachers to keep them “whipped up.” Organizers sent out an email on Tuesday, 11 hours after Ducey had released his budget giving them the raise. It falsely said that the governor hadn’t come up with a budget yet.
What’s #RedForEd’s possible agenda? Very likely it’s political. The strike was meant to make Ducey look bad when the election comes around. The issue was spun into a “Republicans hate education and the public.” Roberts observed, “The irony is that Democratic legislators, who would have been delighted six months ago with 5 percent raises for teachers, mostly voted against 9 percent raises for teachers.” David Garcia, Ducey’s Democratic challenger, leased dozens of buses with his name on them to taxi the teachers from all over Arizona to the Capitol.
An Unaffordable Raise
Ducey signed the bill at 6 a.m. Thursday morning after a long night of working out details. The raise starts with a 9 percent increase next year and rises to a 20 percent raise by 2020. That would put the average teacher’s salary at around $58,130 by 2020, up from their current $48,372. For comparison purposes, the average police officer in Arizona earns $43,000. Someone willing to risk his life, who deals with difficult and dangerous people all day, will earn a lot less than the average teacher.
The protesting teachers want salaries equal to the mean salary of teachers across the U.S. But an anonymous Arizona school teacher told The Federalist that the protesters are making financial comparisons to other states that have high taxes and higher costs of living. She said the teachers agreed to their current salary when they began teaching this past school year.
Getting What They’re Paying For?
And are the taxpayers getting what they’re paying for, when they raise teacher salaries? Charter schools don’t receive anywhere near the amount of funding as regular public schools, yet they outperform them academically.
The governor and legislature do not set teacher pay, local school boards do. While the state government can direct that a certain amount of funds go to teachers’ salaries, they can’t enforce it. So when the school boards don’t allot them as much money as they’d like to salaries, the teachers will go right back to the Capitol and protest for another increase.
Of the $3.5 billion annual increase, only $500 million goes to teachers’ raises. The rest will go to things like curriculum which means new revisionist textbooks, sex ed courses, etc. It does not provide money for support staff, including counselors and janitors.
A Bad Time for a Strike
The strike came at a bad time, right before students were about to take high-stakes exams. Schools and districts statewide closed for a week. Parents upset about the strike formed #PurpleForParents and faced off against the #RedForEd protesters.
The Goldwater Institute sent a letter to school superintendents telling them the strike was illegal. The Arizona Constitution does not permit teachers to strike. Teachers are also committing breach of contract by not teaching. It is a felony for a teacher to use school resources to influence an election.
#RedForEd played Ducey. He gave in to the unaffordable demands, and still looked bad. What’s really bad about this, though? The taxpayers must pay for it all.
Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC.