Some dead-end towns heft such a weight on their youth that all the dreamers can do is hope to, “Get out of this place.”  We all know these places; once bright and full of promise, and booming with opportunity. But, as times change and factories close, some families remain.

Blue collar is tough when times are good.  When The Mill cuts hours and then jobs, blue collar gets real tough, the kind that hardens people.  The hope, the draw to stay is that things will return back to the good old days. Spring follows winter, right?  

Let’s not uproot the kids, we just bought this place, things will get better …

But they rarely do.  Prosperity, and eventually hope itself, wash away.  

A few generations of this changes people, shapes their outlook and mindset.  The standard of what’s good, better than just getting by, drops a few pegs with each business that closes, each company that leaves town.  Eventually the culture and expectation of the the youth from such places becomes: You grow up, get a job, get married and have kids, the order is optional, but start young.

In many ways, Camas, Washington was  just such a place. Kids graduate from high school, get blue collar jobs, have kids, and stay in the area. The nearest college is over an hour’s drive away, and most of the jobs in the area don’t require a degree.

Christina Snyder grew up in Camas.  Nobody in her family had more than a high school diploma, and they had all lived in the area for over 30 years.  The Snyders are a hard working family, but one that embodies this dead-end town culture. Nobody leaves, nobody advances, nobody breaks the expectation.

That culture we grow up with, the expectations established by history, are powerful and nearly completely unseen in our youth.  They put us on a path and being kids, we move forward, rarely seeing what’s ahead or wondering why we are headed such a way. Once we arrive, we almost never look at how we got in such a place.  

At an early age some seed of a vision, a draw to something more, stirred within Christina. She realized her family was poor, as were her friends and community.  Not all of Camas was this way, of course, but the side of the tracks where Christina grew up, despair and lack of hope was obvious, even to a small child. The stand-in tutor for all of her neighborhood friends, Christina wanted to help her community, want to prove something about herself and her family, make them all proud.  This seed germinated in her heart in elementary school. This child, from an entirely uneducated family and a dead-end town, wanted to become a teacher.

Now that things have cooled down, let’s take a look at public education in Arizona.

Public Education and the Law

Arizona’s Constitution, article 11, states:

 The legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system…

Funding Sources Overview

The first thing to know is that our current system of improperly funding (general and uniform) public education is costing “Joe Tax-Payer” a ton of money.  Schools, and other social services like roads and fire departments, have been cut at the state level to the point where local municipalities must raise taxes.  A few key points here:

  • Schools receive over $1 million more in funding annually from local funding than from the state.
  • AZ’s local taxes average 6th highest in the nation.
  • Of our local taxes collected in Arizona, almost 8% pays for interest (we’re in debt).

When comparing the balance of local money to state money between states in the southwest, Arizona is the only state with this disproportionate relationship.

Private and Charter Schools

In Arizona, money earmarked for public education is taken out to subsidize private companies.  

  • The funneling of this money is done through companies called STOs.  
  • STOs keep 10% of the money funneled, right off of the top, in addition to whatever other profit they can take.
  • Many politicians personally profit (enormously), to  the tune of millions annual, on these programs.
  • Over $1 billion has been funneled away from public schools since the program began
  • No financial or education-related obligation is attached to this public money

There is a need for public and charter schools, without doubt.  However, when the politicians are profiting as they are, their motives and efficacy of their proposals is suspect, at best.

Corporate Tax Situation

Arizona has aggressively handed out corporate tax exemptions, even built a warehouse for Amazon to entice them to choose Arizona as its new shipping hub.  

  • Large corporations consider a quality public education system as a key component when deciding upon a state for expansion.
    • Amazon passed on Tucson and Phoenix as locations for their second headquarters because of the public education system in Arizona.
  • Corporate tax exemptions in 2017 surpassed the gross revenue collected in Arizona.
  • Corporate tax collections in 2018/19 are expected to be the lowest since 1993/94, despite being a top 10 state in terms of economic growth.
  • In 2018/19, approximately 1.5% of total government revenue will come from corporate tax collection. Utah, a conservative state that also aggressively recruits corporations, will collect nearly 6% of their revenue from corporate tax.  

 

Growth in Arizona

Arizona is growing, faster than the national average.

  • Since 2008, our population has grown by 14%.
  • Number of jobs have grown in Arizona.
  • Arizona’s economy is growing considerably faster than the national average.

Teacher Shortage

In Arizona there is a severe teacher shortage.  The governor’s response has been to ease the qualifications of a teacher.  

  • 49,000 teachers in Arizona
  • Almost 900 teachers left in 2017/18, mid-contract (leaving the profession)
  • 2,000 unfilled teaching positions in 2017/18
  • 3,400 teaching positions filled with unqualified people, despite the ease in qualifications
  • These rates are far beyond any single school district that struggles to find staffing in the United States … and Arizona does that on a state wide level!
  • Teachers leave the profession because they cannot afford to serve as teachers.
  • The teacher salary was a livable wage a decade ago.

Governor Ducey

Governor Doug Ducey has a history of taking money, sometimes illegally, from education.

  • Acting as State Treasurer, under then governor Jan Brewer, Doug Ducey illegally cut funding to Prop 301.
  • A lawsuit was filed against Arizona, naming Doug Ducey as a defendant.  Arizona lost.
  • Governor Ducey proposes Prop 123 and bills it as funding for education.  The proposition passes which means $0.70 for every $1.00 illegally take would be restored.
    • A federal judge ruled that Prop 123 violated the Arizona Constitution
    • The governor repeatedly points to Prop 123 as how generous he has been towards education.
  • Governor Ducey said that teachers would receive no more than a 1% raise in 2018/19.

Education Funding

Since 2008 no other state has received more cuts to public education than Arizona.

  • The budget for public education in Arizona in 2017/18 was $1.1 billion less than a 2007/08.
  • Funding is established on a per-pupil basis.  Funding per-pupil is down 37% since 2008.
  • Over that time the amount of money vouchers have claimed from public education has expanded.  $1 billion has been taken total.

Governor Ducey’s 20×2020 Proposal

Governor Doug Ducey has proposed a 20×2020 plan to increase teacher pay in Arizona.  Let’s take a look.

  • The program is a budget, not legislation.  It is good for one year only, not the three promised.
  • The 10% increase is really a 5.7% increase to education funding (not a bad thing, but not honest).
  • Many schools will receive less than the amount required to increase salaries by 10%.
  • No money considered for support staff, building maintenance, or programs.
  • Is almost $800 million short of restoring recession era cuts as it is advertised.

Take-Away

Arizona has frequently voted in favor of supporting public education. It looks like people will once again need to return to the polls and show their support for education in Arizona.  Maybe this time the politicians will listen.

For more information on what the propositions and ballots are, and who is running for what office, please stay tuned!  Consider signing up for our email list.

Consider helping support Arizona’s Working Poor by purchasing a t-shirt or wrist band.  All proceeds fund our programs.

Do you ever wonder why a mouse falls prey to a mouse trap?   You know the classic spring trap, with a trigger that holds bait and a spring loaded kill bar that comes slamming down on the mouse once the bait is taken.

The bait must look awful enticing, so much so that the mouse will never step back and see what is connected to the bait … the kill bar!

Governor Ducey has a beautifully constructed spring-loaded trap properly placed, right now.  Let’s take a step back and see how this is attached to a kill bar.

The Bait

The 20×2020 proposal is the bait.  Joe-Public doesn’t care to dig in and see the composition of the proposal.  Joe-Public is busy. Joe-Public sees there’s an offer that seems to match the demands of educators and is left to assume that teachers are being greedy.  This of course assumes that the offer is legitimate, but bait doesn’t have to be quality, just enticing enough to lure the prey in, right?

The Trigger

The vehicle that will carry out the 20×2020 proposal is a budget.  That is of ultimate significance!  A budget is only good for one year.  Don’t take my word for it, read about it here from the government’s website. https://www.azleg.gov/jlbc/budgetprocess.pdf

The doctrine that prevents a budget from reaching beyond a year is called ultra vires.  That’s latin, so it’s legit, right?  It basically states that one legislature cannot tie the hands of another legislature.  This year’s budget has no bearing on what is voted on next year!

To be clear, there is zero guarantee that the governor follows through with his budget even during the coming fiscal year!  There is even less chance of the full proposal being carried out.

Those who don’t know history are forced to repeat it.

The Kill Bar

The kill bar is that people will accept this proposal, or be pacified by it, buying the governor enough time to continue on his path towards gutting public education.  There will be no emergency session this summer as many of the key legislators live out of state in the summer, and the fall session will be a skeleton crew as the legislators will be campaigning for re-election.

The next legislative session will be a year from.  Game Over!

Fight Back

Our job is to expose the trap.  This bait is rotten and it stinks.  Here’s why:

  1. A budget is only good for a year. This “budget deal,” is a three year plan.
  2. The past few years the government has struggled to fund their budgets.  Every year schools receive less than promised in the budget.  Last year’s budget, for example, was predicted to have a $104 million shortfall!  Let’s learn from history!
  3. Governor Ducey has claimed to work side-by-side with educators and supports public education.  This is of course a massive lie. We ended up in this position because the opposite of his statement is true.  Corporate tax cuts, designed and approved by Ducey, have landed us in this position.  He has faced little opposition along the way!
  4. The continued erosion of public education in Arizona is costing us jobs. Companies like Amazon are looking for a highly educated workforce and reportedly passed on Tucson and Phoenix as a base for their second headquarters because of our public education.
  5. Arizona’s voucher program has been a disaster to this point, yet, people like Steve Yarbrough keep pushing forward with it.  Why? Because they profit personally.

Monday and Tuesday – The Final Rounds

The last piece of work the legislative session will see is the budget.  Once the budget is passed many of these legislators will leave the state for their summer homes.  A special session will not be called. There will be no session in the fall because of elections. Whatever happens these next two days, is likely going to be the end of getting our legislation to act!

And while you may think that voting them out and replacing them will provide a new promise, it will be just that…a promise.  This problem was not created by our current elected officials, it’s a cultural issue unique to Arizona.

We have the momentum and we must seize this opportunity!  

Moral support and honking horns, wearing red to work will no longer be enough. We need everybody willing and able, outside of education, to call in sick on Monday, show up at the capitol.  

If we shut down the state on Monday, education wins!

End Game

I speak only for myself on this account, but I would be satisfied, temporarily, if:

  1. We had a budget and a piece of legislation to give it legs that laid forth a sustainable plan to restore public education, or:
  2. A committee to work over the summer on how to realize the five demands of the AEU.
    1. That committee would have to include leadership members of the AEU.

It is my responsibility as a citizen of Arizona to stand up to a government that does not serve the needs of its people.  

Join me on Monday at the capitol, 7 AM, to greet our elected officials as they arrive at work for the day.  Share this, invited friends, neighbors, relatives.

The good governor, Doug Ducey himself, has come to his senses.  He’s apparently sat with teachers, as he says he always does, and discovered the depths of the poverty we suffer despite the value we bring to our communities.  He’s listened, and being the kind of person he is, acting in the best interests of the future of Arizona, he’s decided to fix it. 

Doug Ducey is going to provide teachers with their demands of a 20% pay raise, and worry not, he’s got a plan.  He will properly fund education without raising taxes!  AMAZING!

The problem is, Ducey math never adds up! 

The problem is, Ducey has make-believe teachers receiving $10,000 bumps in pay because of his dutiful efforts on our behalf.

The problem is, Ducey doesn’t understand that it’s not about teacher pay.

The governor is trying to buy teachers off.  I would not believe for a minute that any more than a handful of dollars of his proposed 20% raise would be realized in my bank account … no way! 

 

But let’s assume he’s telling the truth.  In his offer, you can find the links below, he refers to things like “flexible funding.”  That’s political-speak for, “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

The money will come from desperately needed building maintenance and repair, textbooks, technology and transportation funding.

Newsflash:  Buildings do not complain!

For those keeping score at home:  Teachers have found their voice!

He’s trying to buy us off!

 

For someone who has spent so much time collaborating with teachers, the good governor doesn’t seem to have his thumb on the nature of the situation at all.  While teacher pay grabs headlines, teacher pay is just a symptom of a deep rooted, systemic problem.

It is punchy to discover a teacher competing with her own students for a part time job to supplement her income, to buy shoes for her own children.  To hear that a fulltime, certified and highly qualified teacher is on public assistance sells papers. Corporate tax law, the history of the pilfering from Proposition 301, and laws regulating how districts are allowed to spend money are not nearly as sexy!

So while Ducey may be misguided, let’s not get sidetracked.  This is a ploy, a cheap offer.  Teacher pay is just one symptom of a deep rooted problem.  To fix teacher pay alone would be to bandage this open sore, allowing the infection beneath to fester and grow.  When it opens again, what happens? 

My only question is how many “hells” can I fit in the word NO?

Governor Ducey’s Teacher Pay Increase:  https://azgovernor.gov/governor/news/2018/04/governor-doug-ducey-announces-teacher-pay-increase

More detail, click here.

 Please consider supporting Arizona’s Working Poor (a nonprofit working to change the minds of voters by telling the stories of educators, while also helping ease the financial burdens of educators), by buying our #REDforED t-shirt. 

 

You can also shop on Amazon at no additional cost and a small commission is sent our way:  

 

 

Going on strike is powerful.  But, like a nuclear bomb, the fallout is dangerous!  Maybe it could be powerful enough to win the war, but at what cost?

To be clear, here’s my view.  I fear that if a strike took place in Arizona over education, teacher pay in particular, we may get lucky and get a 5% raise.  But that would fail to bring most teachers from the depths of poverty. We would likely be in the same exact situation in a handful of years.  What would we do then, strike again? I don’t think it would work a second time so soon. Maybe I’m wrong.

During a strike people will panic to find ways to appease the striking force, while others will certainly be hardened to our causes. But those working under duress to fix education will be the same that failed to do so during calm times.  

And for how long could we strike?  We are poor, remember. Many of us have zero savings, scraping by if barely so.  

It is my opinion that teacher pay is just the first major symptom of a diseased system.  Throw a bandaid over it, let it scab over, and the infection will fester under the skin, just out of sight of the public’s eye.

The next time the sore opens, it may be too far gone to repair.

The #RedForEd movement in Arizona started the same weekend as this company.  The situation with education is ripe for some changes. It feels almost all parties involved sense it, feel it coming.  Last week Litchfield School District used a bond (or budget override) to increase teacher and support staff pay by up to 10.4%!

There are around 3,000 teaching vacancies in Arizona, despite Ducey’s plan to stick anyone, regardless of ability, in a classroom.

A small district in Sonoita had to eliminate 5th grade, integrating those kids with 6th and letting a teacher go.

The writing is on the wall.  I don’t think a strike is most effective here.  I think we just need to educate the public, show them the writing on the wall while also showing them the value we bring to our communities.

It is an election year for many school board members and for our state positions.  Reach out to your board members, let them know that it is time to change. Even short term help, for a year or two, can buy time for things to get straightened out at the state level.

What are your thoughts.  These are the things that stand out to us at Arizona’s Working Poor, but we wish to have a conversation with those that disagree.  Leave a comment below, maybe you’ll sway us!

 

Regardless, avoiding infighting is crucial at this point.  Yet, these approaches are contentious. We are all articulate and educated, so ask to learn, not coerce, listen to understand, not respond.  And remember, we all want the same thing … a great education system that best promotes the health and stability of our communities. (Attracting and retaining quality teachers is a big part of that!)

In a previous entry I discussed how during the recession the structure of teacher pay was gutted and never resurrected.  The end result has been that teachers today, that taught a decade ago, are in worse financial positions than a decade ago.

While we all hear about the turnover of new teachers, this financial situation is forcing veteran, experienced teachers from the profession.

Teaching takes a long, long time to learn how to do.  If I had to pin a number on how long it took become a component teacher, I’d say 5 years. Regardless of that number, the quality of education coming from a beginning teacher is low, regardless of their potential as a teacher.

I’d like to draw your attention to how veteran teachers, mid-career, are leaving, and what that means for students.  These are the heavy lifters on campuses, those with experience to help new teachers and the energy, lacking from those ready to retire, to do it.  But, they can’t make ends meet! To teach has become a luxury that most cannot afford.

In a post coming soon I’ll discuss how reported teacher salaries are grossly misleading.  You can decide for yourselves, but according to our research the average teacher salary in Arizona is in the middle $30,000 before deductions and taxes.  Throw in medical insurance premiums of up to $8,000, 12% mandatory withholding for ASRS, and taxes, teachers are trying to me ends meet on around $700 to $800 a paycheck.

Now consider that, supposedly, ¼ of teachers in Arizona are within 4 years of retiring.  In that four-year period droves of veteran teachers will find new careers.

The people that will step in will be unqualified or brand new, and as pointed out earlier, doing low quality work. However, without veteran teachers to mentor and coach these new people along, I don’t believe it’s a stretch to imagine that the end result will be damaging to the hopes of students.

If a quality education removes barriers,allowing people access to better lives, and teachers provide that education, and they are leaving in droves because they cannot pay the electric bill, and the public doesn’t hold the governments (state and local) accountable, we will be paying higher taxes for welfare and prisons.  Is that run-on sentence hyperbole?

Is it a stretch to claim that if education is not properly funded today, with powerful oversight to keep the money going where it most matters for students, that we will instead be paying for an increasingly militarized police force? We can give those in greatest need of a quality education access today, or we can incarcerate them tomorrow.

The stability of our economy and the stability of our society is dependent on a quality education system.  

This is a crisis in the making.  We need to exact massive reform in education today!  

This coming year is an election year.  School boards and state level officials from both parties need to feel the urgency of fixing this.  Education reform must be the top priority this November!

 

As many know, I have poured myself into the purpose of trying to do something to help fix this problem in education. It has come at some personal expense and sacrifice (this has been hard)…but when I turn around and see that in a 24 hour period one of my blog posts has over 1,000 people reading it, I know I’m addressing the concerns that people outside of education also carry.

The opposition I’ve received has only fueled my motivation, yet, ironically, some of the shows of support I’ve received have left me dead in my tracks, crushed with humility and gratitude.

And strangely enough, while I have mentioned none of this to my current students, there’s been a powerful impact in my own classroom. Those kids are killing it. While the on-level (non-honors) freshmen this year have been well below the norm, we have a new saying, we’re going to Flip It. The past few years my freshman have done well at the beginning, but could not maintain and struggled as the year went on. This group is all about flipping that around, finishing strong, showing the world that what they really are is more than what they’ve done so far.

A freshman, 16 years old, held back sometime in elementary, passed his test today with a 71%. I pulled him aside and showed him. He’s a big boy, 6 feet and 200 pounds at least, and he let out a huge breath and had to wipe his eyes. He’d never really tried before and felt a massive weight lifted off his shoulders because he discovered he was capable.

That’s why I am crushed by the shows of support. That’s why this is important.

It’s not about teachers, it’s not about money. But without paying quality teachers, who need money to live, it won’t be for the students either.

Why I Wear Red for Ed

I wear Red for Ed because education is the cornerstone of the American Dream.  The American Dream is the ability for an individual to “lift themselves by the bootstraps,” and make more of themselves than their original lot in life would have led you to believe possible.  Education can be used as a ticket to a better way of life, a more meaningful, purposeful and thus, fulfilling life.  And education makes this possible for all, not just the rich, which levels the playing field. 

I wear Red for Ed because teachers perform the acts of education.  Administrators administrate.  Politicians … I think we all know what they do.  The large publishing companies lobby the politicians and have created this bloated, yet useless, testing monster that is gutting the quality of the education our youth receive.  It is destroying the American Dream for our youth.

I wear Red for Ed because the politicians and large publishing corporations have rotted the system while lining their pockets all the while.  Yet, they point the finger and blame low quality teaching as the reason for the rotted system they created. 

 

I wear Red for Ed because it touches on a very important issue that goes beyond education.  Red for Ed is an a-political movement.  I believe the politicians and media have pitted us against one another, and we eat it up!  We love the righteous indignation and the validation of seeing others fuming over a policy or action taken in government. 

I wear Red for Ed for the people opposed to the movement.  Tomorrow’s leaders are being educated today.  Tomorrow’s leaders will decide if caring for the feeble and old is worth the financial expense. 

I wear Red for Ed because to do otherwise is to turn your back on the noble causes of education and instead support the politicians and lobbyists that are lining their pockets with our tax money, with the funding and resources that should be used to keep the American Dream alive for those that need it most…our youth.

I wear Red for Ed because I believe in taking care of those that serve us. 

#RedforEd

 

(The #RedforEd movement is an a-political movement in Arizona to raise awareness of low teacher compensation and its ramifications.  Teachers salary in Arizona is the lowest in the nation, and to make it worse, it appears the average salary for Arizona is vastly exaggerated.  The average teacher pay in Arizona, as reported by the state, is approximately $48,000.  However, that is a very suspect number as various administrators and other positions, that are compensated at a much higher rate than teachers, are thrown into that average.  The state average is probably closer to $38,000 than $48,000.)