Will Legislators Send Teachers Back to Class? #RedForEd Leaders Ready to Return Thursday

#RedForEd leaders said that they would go back to class on Thursday if the Legislature approves a budget. From right: Noah Karvelis, Dylan Wegela, Catherine Barrett, Rebecca Garelli, and Kelley Fisher.
#RedForEd leaders said that they would go back to class on Thursday if the Legislature approves a budget. From right: Noah Karvelis, Dylan Wegela, Catherine Barrett, Rebecca Garelli, and Kelley Fisher. Joseph Flaherty
Striking an optimistic tone, educators behind the statewide school walkout indicated that teachers will go back to class on Thursday if the state Legislature approves a budget.

In a news conference at the Capitol, leaders of Arizona Educators United and the Arizona Education Association began to describe the walkout in the past tense, and said that #RedForEd movement has won significant battles. Teachers forced lawmakers to come to terms with their demands, #RedForEd leaders said, even if not every goal was accomplished. The fight will continue after the strike ends, they said.

"It is time for us to get back to our students and get back into our classrooms," AEU leader Rebecca Garelli said. "We need to continue the fight for the additional resources our students need. If the lawmakers do their job and get the budget passed by Thursday, we commit to return to our classrooms by then."

Educators have held rallies at the Capitol ever since AEU and the AEA initiated a statewide walkout last Thursday. Hundreds of thousands of students have been out of school as a result.

AEU leader and Tolleson music teacher Noah Karvelis said that a deciding factor to end the strike now was "seeing that the Legislature has gone not as far as they're able to go, but as far as they're willing to go."

He cited the roughly $1 billion that has not been restored to Arizona schools since the recession.

"The win isn't there until we restore the $1.1 billion that have been cut," Karvelis told reporters.

In late March, #RedForEd leaders announced five demands, including a 20 percent raise by next year, no new tax cuts until per-pupil spending matches the national mean, and a restoration of the pre-recession cuts to education funding. Even if a teacher pay increase proposed by Governor Doug Ducey passes – the governor wants to give teachers a 9 percent raise next year, and a cumulative 20 percent raise by 2020 – that means the #RedForEd leaders would only notch one of their five goals.

What's more, that single goal was only addressed in a partial sense: AEU leaders are highly critical of Ducey's teacher pay plan for lacking a sustainable source of revenue and largely ignoring the questions of per-pupil dollars and raises for support staff.

Nevertheless, Karvelis sounded optimistic, if slightly weary, at the Capitol on Tuesday evening.

"The war is not over, but we've won an important battle here to move the Legislature this far," Karvelis said.

Today, some districts in the Valley – including the Phoenix and Tempe high school districts – signaled that they would reopen school sites later this week, regardless of what transpired with the walkout. When asked whether educators who support #RedForEd are slowing down based on the schools moving to reopen, Karvelis said that teachers will keep fighting.

click to enlarge A marching band played at the Capitol during the fourth day of a school walkout. - JOSEPH FLAHERTY
A marching band played at the Capitol during the fourth day of a school walkout.
Joseph Flaherty
"They're going to keep that fight up. They're not going to end anytime soon," Karvelis told reporters. "And one thing that's becoming crystal clear to us is the people who are elected to solve these things are not doing it, and it's the people in red who are getting it done."

Karvelis added that educators have expressed interest in a ballot measure that the Arizona Center for Economic Progress introduced last week, which would raise income taxes on wealthy Arizonans to pay for increased school funding.

AEU leader Dylan Wegela, a teacher at Marc T. Atkinson Middle School in Phoenix, said that #RedForEd has produced "astonishing movement from the governor." He explained how Ducey went from describing the movement as "political theater" to offering teachers a 20 percent raise.

"I think it's a big win in the fact that we have moved the governor from essentially giving us a one-time bonus to a 9 percent raise in the base, and then some funding on top of that," Wegela told Phoenix New Times. "However, the battle is not over and we have a lot of fighting to do, and clearly the Legislature can't get it done," he added.

#RedForEd leaders would not say definitively whether they wanted legislators to vote yes or no on the budget making its way through the Legislature, but spoke disapprovingly of the education funding increases included in the package.

Karvelis told reporters, "We've done a lot, but this budget does not go far enough for us right now, and we are staying committed to fighting for our students."
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty