Teachers, students and even a few parents gathered under the school’s flagpole at a little after 7 a.m. on Wednesday, April 4 at Copper Rim Elementary School in Globe wearing red in solidarity with educators around the state who seek higher pay and more spending in the classroom.
The group was there in support of the #RedforED campaign that seeks to draw attention to Arizona’s ongoing education crisis, as school spending remains near the bottom nationwide.
Governor Doug Ducey has proposed a 2 percent raise for instructors, but teachers are seeking a 20 percent raise and assurances that state spending will keep pace with needs in the community.
Copper Rim Principal Brian Peace, who grew up in Globe and attended Copper Rim, was on hand to support his instructors in the morning light on the hill overlooking the city of Globe.
“We love the children in our care and want to make the best education we can provide to them,” he said. “We want the children to have the best opportunities.”
The “walk-ins” were designed to be non-disruptive ways to support educators state-wide as the threat of a strike looms, following large-scale actions in schools with the lowest funding nationwide, such as Oklahoma and West Virginia.
Arizona school funding is near the bottom in the U.S., with teacher pay and per-student spending lagging behind the rest of the country. Rural areas are being hit particularly hard, as Arizona school funding is tied directly to student enrollment and attendance. For example, Miami High School receives about $6,000 per student per year, far below the state average of $11,000.
Erika Flores has been a teacher for seven years with the past four at Copper Rim.
“Teachers are doing this throughout the state,” she said. “We’re looking for support from our communities.”
Both Flores and Peace stressed that the day would be a normal school day. Students were scheduled to do their AzMERIT testing that day and wanted to project positivity in their action.
“One of my parents called and said their child would wear red,” Flores added. “It’s nice to know we have support.”
Carol Bradford has been at Copper Rim for 23 years and was one of the teachers advocating change. She hopes the state will accede to teachers’ demands and avert a strike.
“We’re not going to make it a negative thing, but a positive,” Bradford said. “Support for teachers is good to see. There has been a lot of negativity, but we do make a difference in our community.”
According to information provided by Arizona Educators United, a “coalition of teachers, education support professionals, administrators, and those who care about the state of education in Arizona,” teachers around the state do not just want raises, they would also like to see the state commit more resources to schools.
According to AEU, Arizona is currently 49th in the country for teacher pay and 51st in per-pupil spending. Many teachers are leaving the state to find better paying jobs and better benefits elsewhere.
The group is asking for education spending to return to 2008 levels after a decade without significant raises, but significant cuts in spending. Also, 20 percent wage increases with the goal of “having elementary teacher salaries at the national average in five years.”
Peace is optimistic that changes are coming to the school system that has seen a precipitous drop in spending during the governorship of Doug Ducey.
“I think something will come of it,” Peace said. “I think there will be changes. I don’t know when. We want the best, and the point is not to stop teaching.”