Arizona Stories from School: Families: A Call for Unity with #REDforED

So wow: A teacher strike. It’s a lot to take in. No doubt, upcoming school closures are causing families inconvenience and stress. It is difficult to find childcare, rearrange work schedules, and entertain little ones for extra days at home. We live in a very busy society–and this is a very busy time in the school year. It’s enough to put tired parents out of their mind! I totally get you.

Since the walkout announcement Thursday, I have seen frustrated comments on Facebook and Twitter that teachers are “greedy,” that this is “bad timing,” and that the strike will “hurt kids and families.” It’s an emotional time. At this difficult crossroad, I am calling families to do something REALLY hard: Continue to stand strong with the #REDforED movement and consider how these very inconvenient challenges will benefit your kids in the long run. Our state ranks 48th in per pupil funding (that’s $3,300 less per child than the national average). If we are going to get your kids the education funding they deserve, we need to work together!

There are some powerful people who are trying to divide teachers and parents. In this upcoming week, the Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) will run $3M in persuasive ads telling AZ citizens that Doug Ducey’s #20by2020 plan is a good solution to fund Arizona schools. The ads will likely say that teachers are turning down a raise and leave out the truth: Teachers reject this plan because it does not increase funding for your kids. If we become divided by misleading information and emotion, we have less strength to improve Arizona schools. More than ever, we have to join together. I think information and dialogue are key right now to keep parents and teachers moving together in unity and advocacy.

First, families should read the #REDforED 5 demands to improve AZ schools for students. Seeing the comprehensive demands can help families understand why Ducey’s #20by2020 proposal is not sufficient—and why teachers feel the strike is necessary even though it is inconvenient and expensive for all parties involved. Further, it’s important to understand perspectives that (1) teachers feel strongly that change is needed in our schools (2) AZ has great difficulty retaining teachers (3) suffering in bad conditions is not a solution, and (4) teachers feel out of other options. These school conditions are bad for your kids. Teachers have voted to strike because six weeks of peaceful demonstrations outside the workday have been dismissed by Doug Ducey as “political theater” instead of beginning solutions-focused conversation about improved school funding.

Second, it’s important for families to understand there is money in destroying public education—big money. I used to think educational reforms came from well-meaning but misguided people. Now I believe there are forces intentionally changing AZ public education to benefit themselves financially. We have seen a huge push for charter schools in this state in the last 20 years under the premise of “school choice.” Recently, the Grand Canyon Research Institute published a comprehensive report stating, “charter schools use taxpayer dollars for questionable transactions.” This report described how charters spend far less dollars on your students, charter executives pay themselves outrageous salaries, charters tend to pay teachers lower salaries, and charter owners often have tricky practices like “renting” the school building from charter board members (for an inflated price). None of these things are regulated by the charter model. Concerning? I think so.

In addition to charter schemes, there is big money to be made from online K-12 public ed. According to the guide Online Learning: What Every Parent Should Know, online K-12 schools often receive FULL per pupil funding but have far less costs (and often uncertified teachers). These people benefit from the destruction of brick and mortar schools. And they don’t want you to be unified with #REDforED. They want to divide us. Public schools really are in great danger, and we have to work together to demand change and social justice for AZ kids. Many families do not have the resources to drive their children to charter schools, commit the volunteer hours that some charters require, or have the option of keeping their child home to attend online K-12 schools. We need brick and mortar schools in AZ!

If you feel strongly about saving AZ schools, the #REDforED movement needs your help now more than ever! What if AZ families showed up in massive droves to the walk-ins that all local schools will be holding Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning this week? Would Doug Ducey and Arizona legislators continue to dismiss the #REDforED movement? Or would they get very, very busy to find sustainable funding for AZ schools? I think increased demonstrations of family support—huge amounts of family support—could make a dramatic difference in avoiding or shortening the walkout. Lawmakers need to see that we are UNIFIED despite attempts to divide us.

Ready to go? Here’s some info! The walk-ins are peaceful demonstrations that start about 30 minutes before the school day. If you contact your local PTA (or similar parent organization), they can give you the specific time and location. Lots of people wear red and bring signs, but you don’t have to. Cars drive by and honk their horns in support. We typically take a picture for attendees to share on social media. Personally, I think they are fun—and a good opportunity to teach kids that getting involved and having a voice matters. Your teachers will be so excited to see you!

You can also help by participating in the social media dialogue. Many people are confused about why teachers voted to strike after Ducey announced the #20by2020 plan. Post information about why the #REDforED demands benefit your kids and why Ducey’s #20by2020 plan is not sufficient or sustainable. Encourage others to show up for walk-ins. Contact our Governor and your state legislators (Find them here). Encourage others to do the same. Together, we can bring change through unity. ONLY THROUGH UNITY. See you out there! Let’s improve AZ schools for our kids!

I welcome your comments below and look forward to the dialogue!

For those interested in reading more, here are some additional facts about education funding in Arizona.

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Jess Ledbetter

Jess Ledbetter is a Certified Teacher-Preschool Special Ed at Glendale Elementary School District, and a doctoral student in the Innovation and Leadership program at Arizona State University.