Arizona’s Misguided #RedForEd Teacher Salary Protests

By Rachel Alexander Published on May 5, 2018

#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.

“Critical Pedagogy”?

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.

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.

Ducey Caves

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.

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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.

RedForEd bus

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 increase raises the budget by 5.7 percent. It will be paid for in part by a new $18 vehicle registration fee. Much of the rest depends on a rosy economic outlook.

The governor and legislature do not set teacher pay, local school boards do.

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.

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  • John Connor

    Teachers have been underpaid from the beginning. I applaud their peaceful efforts to raise the standard.

  • Robert Fritch

    Thank you Rachel for exposing the truth. These teachers in AZ who are striking care nothing about the students, they are just being greedy. Many students will have to make the days their teachers striked, My daughter who is graduating this month will have to return to school the day after she graduates to make up for the time her teachers striked. I think I will just call her out sick that day.

  • James

    If states paid their teachers a decent wage, they wouldn’t have to worry about this.

  • Ben Welliver

    Teachers are the most overpaid and underworked people in America. They do a lousy job of educating kids, then demand more money for being failures at their jobs. They work 8 months, get nice fat pensions, and their chance of being fired is almost zero. For everyone one that is a really superb teacher, there are 99 just coasting by at the taxpayers’ expense. I’d love to see at least 90 percent of parents home-schooling their kids, it would break up this education monopoly once and for all.

    • ARB

      I’m torn about how to respond to this, as a college-level instructor, because the students I encounter are far from ready for serious, college-level mathematics–less than 10% of the students I get actually deserve to pass. Parents and high schools hand me students that haven’t been taught either basic responsibility or basic mathematics, and I’m supposed to do something with that? To make them employable as engineers without even the most basic responsibility or numeracy? Most of these kids can’t even be trusted to check their email! Many of them still don’t understand how fractions (4th grade) or exponents (6th grade) work!

      The best thing homeschooling would do is ensure that parents actually invest some energy into making their kids into responsible adults. So many parents fail to realize they’re raising pathetic manchildren who can’t even be trusted to check their email or attend an 8AM class, much less to be trusted with the computations necessary to ensure a bridge or building is safe for use. So many parents these days just hand their parenting role off to the government. And too many secondary school teachers are happy to shirk their duties to become glorified nannies.

      That said, I still think school choice would serve students best overall. It serves to shatter the monopoly on education, and it involves parents more in their student’s education, without saddling them with an entire full-time job they aren’t themselves equipped to do.

    • Lisa

      I don’t know about 90 percent homeschooling… Although I loved homeschooling my girls, who are now in college, I relied on a homeschool co-op to teach difficult subjects I didn’t want to. I’d prefer vouchers that follow the kids so homeschoolers could take a couple classes at the public school or pay co-op teachers better wages.

      Regarding ARB’s comment below, he’s unaware, perhaps, that community colleges offer remedial math classes to homeschoolers to prepare them for college. One of my daughters went from disliking math to getting A’s on algebra tests. A good teacher can make a big difference to struggling learners. That’s why I’m for school choice AND homeschooling. It would be the best of both worlds and encourage competition while ending teacher strikes and artificial pay rates.

      I can’t believe teachers get paid more than cops! Teaching is fun while policing is dangerous and stressful.

    • michael

      Are u joking . They have a alot of Pressure and they aren’t getting paid enough .Why should people have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. . I known alot of people in public schools . One of the things that they are striking for is better school funding .

      • Bryan

        “One of the things that they are striking for is better school funding .”
        Not that that isn’t a worthy goal, but Baltimore City spends a lot per student (something like $18,000 per student per year) and they aren’t breaking any academic records. Better funded schools sounds great but either the money doesn’t end up where it needs to be or the other broken parts of the system aren’t addressed. Such as having good, engaging, and dedicated teachers and having parents involved in their kids education.
        That said, I completely disagree about the overpaid and underworked part in Mr. Welliver’s comment above. My wife worked for a private school and she was doing something for school most of the year, working after hours during the school year, buying supplies with her own money (some of which was reimbursed). I know there are teachers who don’t care and that’s where some of this thinking comes from. But it’s completely disingenuous to label all teachers as overpaid and underworked without knowing what it’s actually like.

        • michael

          I agree that money alone don’t solve everything.

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