If you’ve seen the movie, A Christmas Story, you undoubtedly remember the scene where the boy is goaded into sticking his tongue to a frozen flagpole, and of course, his tongue sticks to it.

The scene is great because it captures how posturing and speech are involved in our interactions, and how we can paint one another, or sometimes ourselves, into a corner.

Flick: Are you kidding? Stick my tongue to that stupid pole? That’s dumb!

Schwartz: That’s ’cause you know it’ll stick!

Flick: You’re full of it!

Schwartz: Oh yeah?

Flick: Yeah!

Schwartz: Well I double DOG dare you!

Narrator (Ralphie as an adult): NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare you”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare.

Schwartz: I TRIPLE-dog-dare you!

Narrator (Ralphie as an adult): Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple dare and going right for the throat!

 

If you’re in education, in any capacity, you’ll undoubtedly have heard the phrase, “ … what’s best for kids.”

If you’re not in education, you’ll likely be surprised to hear how vexing that phrase is to teachers!

The phrase is often used in the context of, “I want you to do this, after all, we have to do what’s best for kids, right?”  It’s coercive, manipulative, and rarely used to promote something that has any impact on what’s best for kids. It almost always has to do with what’s best for the person using the phrase.

And, it’s powerful.  I’ve used it myself, a few times.  Like the triple dog dare, it’s a trump card.  The first person to play it tactfully wins.

Let’s talk about what really is best for kids, in the context of education.

  1.  Stable Home Life

I never appreciated how important a stable home life was until I became a teacher.  I believed it was imperative, without consideration, and my wife and I worked very hard to provide a quality upbringing for our daughters.  But I never knew how bad things can turn for kids in the absence of a stable homelife. I’ll not chase this too far, though it deserves an incredible amount of attention, but is just far beyond the scope of what AZWP does.

The vast majority of incarcerated felons are high school dropouts.  The number one reason kids drop out, and this could be argued and dissected many ways, goes back to quality home life.

  1.  Teachers

Education is performed by teachers.  

In a way, I think that says it all.  The end, thanks for coming.

As a society we can provide the best books, facilities, the safest possible schools, the best support staff, counselors, administrators, school board members, the best buses and athletic programs, but the vast majority of kids will not receive a quality education without a quality teacher.

Yet, a quality education can be received by a student in a dangerous school, without textbooks, in a run down facility, without counselors or support staff, with bad administration, and corrupt politicians…if they have the right teachers.  That teacher that’s a source of light in a dark, dark world.

I’ve heard many, and want to tell, stories of those diamonds in the rough.  The story of a bad school in a bad neighborhood, and a kid with the cards stacked against him (or her).  Yet, in the most unlikely of places a teacher reached them, put them on a different path, one that led to prosperity and fulfillment.

If we, as a society, do not attract the right people into education, and then help develop those people into quality teachers (nobody is born a good teacher), and then encourage those people to stay IN THE CLASSROOM, it’s all for not.

Let me clear up a few points.  For a school to function well as a whole, all of the pieces need to be in place.  The top priority though, is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. We need the right people in the classroom doing the dirty work.  All of the other components are important and need to be high quality as well, but the act of educating kids is done by teachers.

The value teachers provide and the baseline perceived quality of teachers have both been under attack for decades.  Teachers are vilified and distrusted, they’re pointed at as the problem in education by textbook and test publication companies, politicians, and sadly enough, many citizens.  I could easily write volumes about each of these sources, their motivations and their proposed solutions. But there’s no need because they all have a common tactic, attacking the value of the teacher.

Teachers will still be leaving, at a record pace, if they do not make a livable wage.  As many have noted, and I’ve explored at some length here on my blog, the state average teacher salary is around $48,000 annually, as reported by the state.  That amount is far from reality when you consider the phrase I used earlier, IN THE CLASSROOM.  For those that don’t understand the reference, there are a lot of people that do not teach students that are reported as teachers.  (I’m not suggesting the services they provide aren’t valuable, but they skew the averages drastically.)

I have been teaching longer than most in Arizona and I’d be dancing in the streets if I made $48,000.  I work my second job to get to $48,000.  I would need another 26% increase over the 10% I just received to get to $48,000. I’m a quality math teacher headed into my 12th year of teaching.

Our current situation is this: #REDforED is trying to get more money into schools, and in my opinion the bar is too low.  We are trying to return to our per-pupil funding levels of 2008, when we were considered “The Mississippi of the West,” for education.

Regardless, once that money goes into schools the first and most important thing that must happen is that teachers need to earn a livable wage.  That’s not to say that other employees should be forgotten and passed over. That’s not to say facilities shouldn’t be updated. It’s not to say better safety precautions are not essential.  The act of education is performed by teachers. All other components support education.

We need enough money for all of those things.  The reality of the situation is that we are not receiving enough money for those things, not even close.

Analogies are risky because they’re always riddled with connections that are close, but not quite right.  The understanding gleaned from analogies is based on different situation with its own set of nuances and relationships and pitfalls are plentiful.  But analogies are powerful and useful in exposing key ideas.  These are all similar in the respect that the primary function of an organization is performed by one role.  Please consider a hospital without doctors, a transportation system without drivers, a computer with a processor, an airline without pilots, a team without players, a band without musicians, a canvas without a painter, a school without teachers.

#REDforED was spurred into existence because of a massive teacher shortage and all signs pointing towards the rapid expansion of that shortage.  Teachers, even after (if it comes to fruition) the 20×2020 deal, will not be staying in education, at least not in Arizona.

If you want what is best for kids, attract the right people into education, support and develop them into quality teachers, then reward and encourage them for staying.

Having quality teachers in classrooms is what’s best for kids. 

Governor Ducey claims he is giving a 20% raise to teachers in Arizona by 2020.  Let’s dig in and see what it’s all about. As is often the case with politicians, what isn’t being told is very important, it completes the picture.  What is Governor Ducey hiding here?

But first, a little history to contextualize the source.  Under Governor Jan Brewer, Doug Ducey served as State Treasurer.  Money was illegally taken from Proposition 301 (education money), and a suit was filed.  The state of Arizona lost the suit and the money that was taken from public education was to be restored.  In response, Governor Ducey came up with Prop 123, which essentially settled the debt for around 7 cents for every dollar owed.  

The dark money sponsoring the governor and his programs billed the proposition as a boon for public education.  Arizona voters have consistently voted pro-education funding and so the proposition passed. Ever since then Governor Ducey has cited Prop 123 as how generous he’s been towards public education.

Despite the funding for public education in 2017/18 being $1.1 billion below the funding a decade before (not adjusted for inflation), the governor refused to provide more than a 1% raise for teachers.  Teachers mobilized and he came up with his 20×2020 plan.  Again, he has claimed that he has always invested in public education and worked hard to fund those programs that protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.

It is as if there were 20 cookies in the cookie jar and without permission he took 18 of them.  When caught he put two back, then pointed and claimed, “Look at how many cookies I’m putting in the cookie jar!  I’ve increased it by 100%!”

Now, also keep in mind this is an election year.  

Politicians are clever with how things are worded.  The 20×2020 plan has been said to be a raise for teachers, 20% by the year 2020, and 10% this year.  But, as you’ll see, this is really a 5.7% bump in education funding. Of course that is a desperately needed influx of new money, but the problem is it leaves us about $700 million short of what funding for education was a decade ago.  It falls far short of the claim that this plan, “Fully restores recession-era cuts.”

Here are the details about how the 10% was calculated and how it is being distributed, which are why it is a 5.7% increase in education funding and not a 10% teacher raise. Governor Ducey took the average salary for people that fit his narrow definition of teachers (many elective, art, and special ed teachers are not counted) and increased that amount by 10%.  He then took total and added it to the ADM (you can read about ADM here if you like).  For all intents and purposes, ADM is used to calculate the money that schools receive, like what might be thought of as a general fund.

The increase in ADM is about 5.7% over last year.  There is no legally binding language or even hand-shake agreements that earmark the money to go to teachers and or staff.  The governor can say the money is for raises to the press, but what’s written and legal is what is real. Districts have discretion to use the money however they see best, without any guidelines even suggesting it goes to staff.

Here’s the rub: People read the headlines and hear a 20% increase in funding (Often websites misrepresent this by saying the increase is in education funding, not teacher pay. CNN reports, Arizona teacher walkout ends with new education funding,).  Teacher pay is, of course, just a part of education funding.  And not all teachers were even considered when coming up with the total amount to be added to the “general fund.”  The actual amount of increase is far less than it appears and far less than needed.

 

And some districts will really suffer.  Districts will not receive a 10% increase based on their “teacher” salaries, but instead will receive the 5.7% increase of the ADM.  Some districts will be far short of the 10% of teacher salaries, other will be far ahead.

This is also very important because one the of the major victories that the #REDforED movement had was to get people to focus their attention on the state, not the local districts.  The expectation of a 10% raise can easily become a major problem for districts that do not have that amount of money! The governor can sit back, point his finger and say, “Go ask your district, I gave them the money and the freedom to make sure it goes where it’s needed!”

This can easily take the focus off of the governor and put it on local districts, and inappropriately so.

It gets worse.  There are two other major problems with this proposal.  The first is that the proposal is not a piece of education reform legislation but a budget.  Budgets are only valid for one year. They carry no legally binding value beyond that. If the governor is not re-elected, this “deal” is dead and gone.  If he is re-elected, the 20×2020 plan is a promise from a person who has repeatedly taken money from public education (even illegally), and who is likely to run for a national level position once his next term is complete (reads little concern for righting any wrong).

The second major problem is that a portion of the money injected into education will require certain districts to raise their property taxes. In order for this to be legal, according to the Arizona constitution, a ⅔’s majority vote would be required.  The governor has tried this before and it was struck down by the state supreme court.  It is entirely likely that a lawsuit will be filed over this unconstitutional raising of property taxes.

In the past Doug Ducey has defunded public education and has only stopped when he had little or not choice (lawsuit, 75,000 marching on the capitol).  He is up for re-election in a few short months and has whipped up what he claims is a 20% raise for teachers in a few years. This is a misrepresentation of reality, one that leaves education over $700 million short of its claim!

It is my humble opinion that this is a ploy to buy some time … time enough to get the election behind him.  And his ploy is working. Over 75% of Arizonans are in favor of the program.  What would that percentage be if they understood it was a 5.7% increase, leaving us $700 million short of where we were a decade ago?

 

Political maneuvering and deals behind closed doors, dark money, and misinformation campaigns make our political scene across our country quite ugly, in my opinion.  It is my belief that the politicians love when we choose sides ahead of time.  All they have to do, in turn, is craft the right message and police their image, and they’re done.  (If I had an agenda here it would be to convince people to distance themselves from their affiliated party, just a little.)

Throw education in the mix, a public concern with tax-payer money, and it gets double tricky.  As a teacher for over a decade, I know a lot about teaching, but have learned that I knew next to nothing about education!  So what does Joe-Public know about it?  There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation, some spread intentionally by various sides of the issue, but most of it unintentional.

However, I believe that whether a person believes that quality private education is the solution or that quality public education is the solution, all can agree that an educated population will create a healthier and more stable society.

Starting with that as our foundation, let’s build this next:  If you’re reading this you undoubtedly already have opinions about whether #REDforED is a political movement.  You already have some beliefs about whether or not the teachers’ union (Arizona Education Association) has created the Arizona Educators United (the group that started the #REDforED movement).

I ask that you set your opinions aside because clarity in this situation is difficult.  Consider all of the issues and conditions before coming to a conclusion.  If you believe education is fundamentally important to the health and stability of our state, YOU, WE, need to remove those who wish to piggy-back on the issues at hand for self-promotion from the issue of education reform.   

 

It is my belief that if we build something on a faulty foundation (misdirection, coercion and lies), it will not last.  Education reform is a must and it has to be done right. 

With the agreement that education is important to all interested parties and that seeking what is best instead of being right will best serve our common interest, let me share what I know.  Whether you determine #REDforED and the Arizona Educators United to be a political ploy will be your decision. 

Here’s how #REDforED, and the AEU started.  In early March educators from around the state began mobilizing individually.  Some, like myself, were trying to exact change at the district level, others knew more about education and were looking bigger.  Through social media and personal connections a small network grew. Cat Barrett coined the hashtag #REDforED, trimming it down from her original #WearREDforED.  

A FaceBook group was formed and it grew, fast!  The focus of the AEU became to change state level funding of education (more on this later), and to do so in a nonpartisan way (whether that stayed or changed, you can decide). 

Soon there were demonstrations and a list of demands.  It happened so fast, and was done by working teachers that were NOT missing work, did not have any budget or facilities.  There wasn’t even a website for a landing page for people not on social media.  Without doubt, the AEU is a true grassroots movement.   

Now it is true that some of the members of the AEU have been active with issues that are aligned with the Democratic’s platform.  However, there are also many members that registered and voting Republicans.  And you’ll just have to take my word for it here, but any push to “turn the state blue,” has been quashed on the discussion boards.  

You may be wondering if #REDforED and the AEU have been co-opted by those who wish to use the movement for political gain since then.  Here’s what I know, make use of the information and decide for yourself.

First the fly-by, then we’ll get into some details.

  • When dealing with the public sector and tax money, politics are involved.
  • The #REDforED movement is calling into question the actions of our governor, especially with respect to executing the will of voters as they have expressed support for the funding of public education with prop 301
  • Many politicians and political agencies originally sided with the AEU, then when the governor made his 20×2020 proposal they flipped and sided with the governor.  After a few days, they rescinded their backing of the proposal.  
  • #REDforED is not playing political games and remained steadfast.  The AEU is demanding of our current legislators and governor to reform education funding.

Now the nitty-gritty behind the scenes:

  • The AEU is made of educators.  Educators tend to be more liberal than conservative, politically speaking.
  • The AEU is made of educators, that are working full time to educate children.  They don’t have much time and have even less money.
  • The timing and message were right and the #REDforED movement exploded creating the need for facilities and structure that the ground-swell movement did not possess.  
  • A contentious (between AEU members) decision was made to allow support from the AEA (the “union” … it is not a union but an association, and the difference is not just semantic).  Sorry for the alphabet soup there. 
    • The AEA has endorsed democratic politicians in the past and this was a conflict for the AEU’s nonpartisan foundation.
  • The union, however, has joined the AEU and #REDforED movement, changing their approach to education reform.  
  • This deserves a second bullet because it is unprecedented:  The “union” was changed by the #REDforED movement!

 

Here are my answers to the questions at heart regarding if the AEU and #REDforED is a political ploy.  

 

Is #REDforED political?  Yes.  It involves elected officials, tax money and public interests.

 

Does #REDforED have a political party affiliation?  No.  

 

Is #REDforED supported by Democrats?  Yes.

 

Is #REDforED supported by Republicans?  Yes.

 

Does #REDforED publicly support a Democratic candidate for Governor?   No.

 

Does #REDforED privately support a Democratic candidate for Governor?  There is no private, it is a grassroots movement.  There is no leader, but instead the connection between individuals is what makes it strong.

By Jay Figueroa:

Why are furious with the rhetoric of Doug Ducey? There is a tremendous amount of misinformation being spread. He continually spouts for people to “Get the facts!” It’s his almost childish way of deflecting from the truth. He continually distorts the truth by spouting, “Get the facts!” and then proceeds in telling half-truths of which he fast talks and tries to dominate the conversation before anyone can dig deeper. He knows how TV and Radio work; Get in. Build confidence. Say the word “FACTS” and get out. Well, here are some facts that Doug Ducey does not want you to recall. He only accounts for 2015-present. Enclosed are some Pre 2015 facts that he always leaves out because he is hiding a lot from the public.

Fact: On November 7th, 2000 the voters of Arizona passed proposition 301 part of which secured cost of living increases and increases in inflation.https://ballotpedia.org/Arizona_Sales_Tax_for_Education,_Pr…
Here are some highlights: (j) For increases in teacher base level compensation, teacher compensation based on performance, and maintenance and operation purposes.

2. Automatic inflation adjustments in the state aid to education base level or other components of a school district’s revenue control limit. Remember, this is what the VOTERS wanted.

Fact: In the earlier part of this decade then Jan Brewer had a choice to make with the state’s career ladder bonus program. This entailed teachers putting together a portfolio of their work to demonstrate and prove growth over the school year. This was one of the best programs in AZ because it really made teachers strive to do better and improve student performance. Her choice was to fully fund and make these bonuses available to the entire state, or cut the program entirely. She chose to cut. This was a cut of about $8,000 to many teachers who were on the program. In addition to that our salaries were cut a few thousand by our district. Now if you do the basic math. A teacher making $50k has their salary drop $10,000. That’s a 20% reduction in salary that was due to state cuts. 

http://azsba.org/…/uploa…/2017/04/Unrestored-Budget-Cuts.pdf

Fact:  The State Legislature started making illegal cuts out of the state’s 301 deal.  They broke the law by doing “their will” and not the will of the voters. Doug Ducey, in capacity of State Treasurer, was directly named in the lawsuit that ordered to make it right.  

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/az-supreme-court/1645559.html

Fact: Instead of paying back the teachers in full, now Governor Ducey, and the state legislature came up with the prop 123 scam which the state trust land were used to come up with the quick cash to settle. This was a heck of a bold move because the state trust land is there to help education in the case of an emergency. It was his emergency.

 https://research.wpcarey.asu.edu/…/State-Trust-Lands-and-Ed…

Fact: On channel 12 Sunday Square Off in January 2018, Ducey stated that the prop 123 was a settlement of a year long lawsuit he inherited, as if it was from Jan Brewer’s term. He was the state treasurer who was NAMED in the lawsuit. That is a straight out lie unless he has a multiple personality disorder and thinks he is a different person than the state treasurer. He says Prop 123 is a settlement and new money in the same interview contradicting himself. The basis of the story is stating why he thanked the Koch Brothers for enabling him to pay for advertisements that protect his record on education.

https://www.12news.com/…/gov-ducey-dismisses-d…/75-508062936

Once again. Doug Ducey does the dance to get himself out of trouble. This time he is robbing the childrens’ future funds to pay for his mistake before. He’s “robbing Peter,”…… to “pay Peter.”

http://www.politifact.com/…/vote-heres-what-you-need-know-…/

Fact: The lion’s share of the 9% new money that is put toward education is a restitution payment from the past lawsuit. 
To put into perspective. If someone smashes into your car and causes $10K worth of damages.

Then only pays you back $7,000. You would be angry. Then if that same person who hit you, tells others that he gifted you $7,000 in money and that you are greedy for wanting more. You would be irate. Not to mention. You find out that the $7,000 he paid you came from your own rainy day fund? You would be….us.

Please understand that teachers aren’t in this for the money but just want things to be made right. Teachers and children have carried this state by filling the shortcomings of our tax base for the last 18 years. We went from 34th in per pupil spending to 48th. The state legislature would have us believe that a tax increase would be catastrophic. This can be done as a combination of tax increases and removal of some corporate tax breaks. It’s time to give the kids and teachers of this state a break and think of our future.

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!)