Sporting red T-shirts, jackets and signs, hundreds of district and charter school teachers, students and education supporters across Flagstaff showed up early at their schools Wednesday morning as part of a walk-in in support of the #RedforEd movement.
The movement is protesting low teacher pay and funding for education in the state that, on a per-pupil basis, is among the lowest in the nation.
At Flagstaff High School more than a 100 teachers, students, administrators and education supporters from three nearby schools -- FHS, Flagstaff Junior Academy and Marshall Elementary -- gathered before the school day started to listen to veteran teachers and students talk about their reasons for fighting for higher teacher pay. Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans also attended to show her support. When the first bell rang for the school day, the group walked en masse into the school in a show of support.
#RedforEd is a statewide movement organized by Arizona Educators United. The group is demanding that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Legislature meet five requirements that include a 20 percent pay increase for teachers, pay increases for school support staff, a restoration of education funding to 2008 levels and no new tax cuts.
The movement’s organization has said it will call for a walk-out at schools across the state if three criteria are met: 40,000 citizens sign a petition supporting their demands, at least 1,000 schools across the state hold a walk-in and 30,000 people sign a pledge to support teachers who walk out.
FHS history teacher Mitch Askew notified the crowd, to cheers of delight, that the Flagstaff Unified School District Board had unanimously signed a resolution supporting the Red for Ed movement at Tuesday’s regular board meeting. It was standing room only at that meeting. The board also adjusted its policy on gatherings on school property to allow the Red for Ed supporters to stand outside the doors of FUSD schools for the walk-in Wednesday morning.
“I would not be in the position I am without all of the teachers in my life,” said FHS Student Body President Josh Vallecillo. He said he had a rough freshman year at FHS. He moved from a small middle school to a much larger high school and at the same time, his mom was diagnosed with leukemia. When teachers and staff at the school found out, they brought his family meals, stopped him in the hall to ask how the family was doing and helped him keep up with his school work.
“We are 48th in the nation in teacher salaries for high schools and 50th in the nation in teacher salaries for elementary schools,” he said to boos from the crowd. “I would like to invite all of the legislators in the state to come to a classroom and see what it’s like before they make their next state budget.”
“No one who is great, movie stars, scientists or artists, became who they are without great educators,” Vallecillo said. “Today’s a great day for change. We will make the change. We will see you at the polls in November.”
“Twenty-eight years at the same district, 28 years at the same high school, 28 years in the same classroom,” said Danielle Bradley, a Spanish teacher at Flag High. “I miss all of the fine teachers who have left during those years. They should be entering their prime teaching years with us, but they couldn’t afford to stay in Flagstaff. I look at the new teachers here and I’m scared that they won’t be here in 28 years.”
Clyde Ellis, a junior at FHS, encouraged the crowd to get involved in the Red for Ed movement.
“It’s really easy to make a post on Facebook or a tweet. It’s really easy to wear a red shirt,” he said.
The state has pushed teachers and students into a corner when it comes to funding education.
“Just know that there are thousands of kids supporting you,” he said.
Kelly Graham, an English teacher at FHS, pleaded with supporters at the rally to do their own research on education funding in the state. Don’t wait for others to do it for you, she said. Don’t let others create fractions that will split you apart from others.
“We have to stand up for tough solutions,” she said. “We have to speak up until others are willing to do the hard work. This is just the start.”
She talked about a freshman student she had a conversation with. The student, who wanted to become an engineer, said she didn’t like her math classes this year because they were working with their fourth teacher of the year. The student was afraid she was missing things because of the turnover in teachers.
“How many students will we let down in this way?” Graham asked.
Teachers are humble people. They don’t like to fight for themselves, she said. She encouraged people to look for someone to fight for, a student, a teacher, a staff member.
“I will use my voice. I will use my vote for the people of this state,” Graham said. "There will be a payoff if the Red for Ed movement is successful. It may not be immediate but it will pay off 10-fold in the future."
FHS Principal Tony Cullen asked the group to not forget the classified staff at the schools. Classified staff are usually janitors, lunch room workers, aides and office staff. They also need support and funding, he said.
Several charter schools also held walk-ins in support of the Red for Ed movement, including BASIS Flagstaff, Northland Preparatory Academy and Pine Forest School, among others.
Flagstaff Junior Academy Director Thomas Drumm was at the Red for Ed walk-in at FHS. He also announced that the FJA Board had unanimously signed on to the resolution supporting Red for Ed.
“Have never seen this level of solidarity among charter and district schools,” he said. “I respectfully disagree with those who think that there is enough funding for education in Arizona.”
Drumm pointed out that when the school year started, the state had more than 1,000 vacant teaching positions.
“That is not fair to the students,” he said. Low teacher pay is just one reason for the teacher shortage in Arizona. He warned that Arizona will fall further behind in education as more teachers leave the state for better-paying jobs elsewhere. He called the underfunding of education in the state and the nation a direct threat to democracy. He urged people attending the event to vote for candidates who support education funding in November’s elections.
Across town at Pine Forest, Mount Elden Middle School and Puente de Hozho Elementary, car horns echoed down a block of Fourth Street Wednesday morning, where teachers, staff and students from the three neighborhood schools held signs and wore red in support of increasing education funding.
"As of this year, state testing requires online submission, but we don't have a computer lab," said Jenny Cummiskey, a second-grade teacher at Pine Forest. "We are mostly not technology-based, but it's required for all public schools."
The school is working to raise money for a mobile computer lab for testing purposes, she said.
Cummiskey organized the "walk-in" at Pine Forest, and said the staff at the school wants to stand in solidarity with all Arizona public schools.
When asked if Pine Forest teachers were prepared to walk out if the demands are not met, Cummiskey said the teachers are still discussing the possibility, but "I think we are."
About 100 teachers, staff, students and community members gathered outside Puente de Hozho before school Wednesday morning. Principal Robert Kelty gave teachers each a red daisy to hold in support.
Kindergarten teacher Danielle Morales and second-grade teacher Lauren Bradshaw organized the school's walk-in.
"I've been a teacher for a couple decades, and I have two part-time jobs just to keep my teaching job," Morales said.
Morales said people are never shocked to hear that she works three jobs, especially other teachers.
"It's sad that it's not shocking," she said. "I can't think of one person who's been shocked to hear I have two other jobs."
Bradshaw has been a teacher in FUSD for nine years, and said she came into teaching after large cuts to education were made, so she is used to low pay and lack of raises.
"I didn't know any different," she said. "When I started to hear about it, I was shocked at the state of our state."
The two said they know of colleagues who have left Arizona to teach in other states for more money, adding to the crisis when qualified teachers no longer want to work here.
Morales said teachers at Puente de Hozho are prepared to walk out if the demands of the Arizona Education Association are not met.