One year ago Arizona was recovering from its first statewide teacher walkout which ended when Gov. Ducey and the Legislature approved a three-year plan to boost wages 20 percent. Education advocates, represented in large part by the “Red for Ed” movement, celebrated a convincing and decisive political victory, and appeared poised to reshape Arizona politics, putting a priority on increased funding for public schools.
Seeking to capitalize on that momentum school supporters formed “Invest in Ed” and crafted a citizen’s initiative that quickly collected the number of signatures needed to add a referendum to the 2018 ballot. The measure called for higher taxes on the rich to increase education funding.
Today, that momentum has waned, legislators are back to stifling progress on school funding and classrooms continue to suffer from too few teachers and too many students.
The first blow was a court decision that tossed the citizen’s initiative. Opponents successfully challenged the wording of the measure and the Attorney General altered the ballot language, which frustrated efforts for the statewide referendum.
Next came new efforts by the Legislature to pass bills that sought to restrict and penalize teachers involved in any activities similar to those that led to the walkout. Some called for the Attorney General to prosecute those involved in organizing the statewide campaign.
Now, at the height of state budget discussions, lawmakers can’t agree on initiatives to fund classroom supplies for teachers and Republicans are divided on whether the state sales tax should be increased to raise more money for our schools.
Democrats, a traditional ally for educators, killed two GOP measures proposing a stipend for teachers to pay for classroom supplies. Education advocates criticized the initiatives, arguing the $12 million proposed for the program isn’t enough to solve the state’s school funding issues.
Arizona appeared on the brink of embracing radical change in 2018, boosting teacher pay and finding more public money for its schools. One year later, the political progress has slowed and other than a significant increase in teacher salaries, public schools continue to struggle with finding funding for the classroom.
In Arizona, accomplishing real change in the Legislature isn’t something that will happen quickly or easily. It’s fair to say that in this state, the prospect of change often assures that things will stay the same.
—Published in the Herald/Review