Teachers and other activists rallied at the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday to oppose another bill that would expand the Empowerment Scholarship Program.
Teachers and other activists rallied at the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday to oppose another bill that would expand the Empowerment Scholarship Program.
Ray Stern

Teachers in Red Rally at Arizona Capitol, Protest Tax Credits for Private Schools

About 100 Arizona teachers and supporters rallied at the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday, turning out in support of their Red for Ed movement and to oppose a private-school tax-credit bill.

Spring break this week at many Arizona schools boosted teacher participation in the event, which was put on by Arizona Educators United and the Arizona Educators Association.

Activists with the groups spoke against Senate Bill 1467 at the Arizona House of Representative's Ways and Means committee before posing for photos on the Capitol plaza in their red shirts and chanting "Red for Ed!"

The state is shortchanging public education by steering millions in tax credits to private school subsidies with legislation like SB 1467, they say.

The bill would expand the state's Empowerment Scholarship Account program by making it available to home-schoolers and new Arizona residents and by raising the cap on corporate contributions to ESAs, among other changes.

It narrowly passed the committee on Wednesday, moving it closer to a full vote by the House and a likely signing by Governor Doug Ducey. It has already cleared the State Senate.

"This one hurts — it stings," Noah Karvelis, one of the organizers, told the crowd after the committee's vote. "But we need to fight back."

Karvelis, a K-8 music teacher in the Tolleson district, is also Arizona Educators United's Facebook page administrator. He urged teachers to voice their opinions on social media often. The movement has been using #RedForEd on Twitter nationwide.

The group is working on projects to counter a new ad campaign that supports Ducey and the pro-tax credit side, he said.

The AEA endorsed Democrat David Garcia for governor.

Leaders of the teachers' political groups are also gearing up for a large rally on March 28, he said, during which they'll present demands to the governor that are still being formulated.

Angelina Cook, a kindergarten teacher in Paradise Valley and an Arizona Educator United organizer, said that the state needs to:

• Fill the 2,000 vacant classrooms because of the teacher shortage
• Spend $1 billion immediately to enhance teacher pay
• Ensure teachers are well-trained and certified.

"We're at the bottom of the fish barrel," Cook said of Arizona teacher salaries.

It's unclear if Arizona teachers are "dead last" or next to last in teacher pay, but even critics of the teachers' political tactics admit there's a problem.

"While the battle for available state dollars is contentious, there is virtually no group or person who suggests Arizona teachers shouldn’t be paid more," Sean McCarthy of the Arizona Tax Research Association wrote in an op-ed in the Arizona Republic on Tuesday.

On Friday, Phoenix second-grade teacher Elisabeth Milich made headlines after publishing her pay information on Facebook. After she took several professional development classes, she wrote that she "laughed" when she saw her pay went up by only $131, to $35,621.25 annually.

SB 1467 is unrelated to a November ballot measure that will ask voters whether they want to make the ESA program available to all public schoolchildren.

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