From West Virginia to Oklahoma, and now to Arizona, the Red for Ed movement has steadily made its way across the country.
According to Pima Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams, the movement is the way students, teachers and school boards are advocating for wholesale institutional changes in education.
“It's kind of a grass-root effort that came through, and every Wednesday, we want the community to wear red to show our appreciation for teachers, but more importantly, our desire for change in education,” Williams said.
According to Tucson High biology teacher Marea Jenness, educators are fed up with business as usual. “It is teachers saying, ‘We are sick and tired of 10 years without a meaningful raise when the cost of living is going up all around us.’”
In Arizona, there are approximately 1,200 teacher vacancies, according to Williams. That leads to students having long-term substitutes and larger classroom sizes ranging up to 34 students per class when the Arizona average is of 25.
Lower teacher pay and benefits eliminates the interest of teachers wanting to teach in Arizona.
“If I went over to New Mexico, my base salary would go up $15,000 a year with better health insurance,” Jenness said.
On top of paltry benefits, Jenness explained the lengths some teachers go to to make ends meet.
“We have teachers that are working two other jobs just so that they could be a teacher, and it’s not right," she said. "I know people with master’s degrees that are going to retire making less than $40,000 a year."
In the state of Arizona, there hasn’t been a raise in teacher salary in a decade teachers receive limited aid for classroom supplies, according to Jenness.
“We’ve gotten little [teacher grants] along the way; we might sometimes get a STEP [a type of grant], which is $500, but that only can amount to a McDonald’s burger once a week.”
Teachers, students and faculty will organize Wednesday, April 4, to demonstrate their support for the Red for Ed movement and their dissatisfaction with the current state of Arizona’s education system.
“Our demand is for 20 percent, which sounds like a lot, but if you look at the increase in minimum wage that Arizona voted for my son went from $8.15 at minimum, then $10 and then to $10.50 as a courtesy clerk at Sprouts, and that is more than a 20-percent increase," Jenness said.
The national trend is encouraging for Jenness. But she sees a long road ahead.
“Arizona is really starving our schools and our teachers, and it is time for it to end,” Jenness said.
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