Teachers in Arizona are getting second jobs not because they’re struggling to survive on their low pay, but because they want to enjoy the finer things in life, like boats, according to House Majority Leader John Allen.
“They’re making it out as if anybody who has a second job is struggling. That’s not why many people take a second job,” Allen said. “They want to increase their lifestyles. They want to improve themselves. They want to pay for a boat. They want a bigger house. They work hard to provide themselves with a better lifestyle. Not everyone who takes a second job does it because they’re borderline poverty.”
Allen, a Scottsdale Republican, made the remark as an explanation for the controversial comments he made during a vote Tuesday on a bill to allow more people without formal teacher training to teach at K-12 schools. The bill, SB1042, passed the House and is awaiting Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature.
During the vote, Allen said the fact that some teachers have to hold a second job to make ends meet doesn’t mean lawmakers don’t care about them. Instead, it shows teachers are enterprising Americans, like many lawmakers, he said.
“Most of us in this room have a second job. Good for them,” he said, adding he likes it when people use their “God-given talents” and try to make themselves better.
“That’s America. The idea that we are somehow torturing somebody if they have a second job is just ridiculous. And (teachers) have a long summer. What a great opportunity for people like us and teachers to go out and get a second job. Let’s all get a second job this summer,” he said.
The Arizona Legislature is a part-time citizen-legislature, and members often have day jobs. Typically, the legislative session ends in April or May, and lawmakers spend the rest of the year back in their districts. On rare occasions, they are called back to the Capitol for a special session.
Allen’s remark drew fire from Democrats and public education advocates, who argued that SB1042, and the Republican lawmakers who supported it, are anti-teacher.
Progress Now Arizona seized on Allen’s “that’s America” remark to fire off a news release slamming the majority leader and the Republican-controlled Legislature for attacking public school teachers.
“It’s the latest show of disrespect from Republican legislators to Arizona teachers. Hardworking teachers already work long days, nights, and weekends educating our children. But Republicans think the American Dream is working multiple jobs to make ends meet,” the organization said, adding Republicans and Ducey have an “appalling track record of disrespecting Arizona educators and destroying our public schools.”
But Allen told our reporter his original comments weren’t meant to imply that teachers should get second jobs, just that if they do, it shows they’re hard workers.
And he said having a second job can be a choice teachers make not because they’re struggling, but to improve their lives and buy things like a boat or a bigger house.
When our reporter noted that teachers, who often start with salaries in the $30,000 range, probably aren’t taking second jobs to buy boats, Allen replied that many people choose to be teachers knowing the pay situation and that they’ll have to take a second job to make ends meet.
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said he doesn’t know any teachers with boats.
“I know teachers that have refinanced their mortgage. I know teachers who have lost their homes in the last 10 years. I know teachers that are sadly telling their own children not to become teachers. But I don’t know any teachers that own boats,” he said.
Thomas said teachers get second jobs to make ends meet and to pay off their student loans. Many of the finer things in life, such as boats, are often out of reach for them, even those who hold two jobs, he said.
“Rep. Allen’s statements are not only insensitive, they’re insulting. It shows he needs to spend a little more time in public schools talking to teachers,” Thomas said.
SB1042 would allow anyone who has “expertise in a content area or subject matter” to teach in a public school.
More significantly, it exempts the person from having to take a test of professional proficiency, leaving much of the decision on who is qualified to teach up to local school superintendents rather than the Arizona Department of Education.
That provision has upset foes, who argued that simply being knowledgeable in an academic area does not mean an ability to actually teach.
The legislation was meant to address the “teacher shortage crisis” in Arizona by allowing non-teachers who have professional experience to gain a teacher certification without going through the normal pathway.
But Thomas said the bill wouldn’t solve the teacher shortage but rather, exacerbate it.
“It’s just unbelievable that’s the track we’re taking… We’re gonna end up with teachers who are already working second jobs and already spending time planning their lessons. And now those very teachers are going to be the ones who will have to help these pretend teachers learn how to teach,” he said.
Solving the crisis is pretty simple, he said. Just pay teachers more.
“We don’t have competitive compensation,” he continued, adding teachers also don’t feel respected in Arizona. “This is absolutely not difficult. We just have to find the political will to invest in our teachers so they can be successful with their students.”
But Allen said it’s not the Legislature’s fault teachers aren’t being paid commensurate with the salaries of teachers in other states because lawmakers don’t set teacher pay, as that falls to school boards.
When our reporter noted that, while the Legislature doesn’t set teacher pay, it decides the overall education funding from which school boards draw money to pay teachers, Allen countered that legislators have repeatedly tried to get more money into classrooms, but it never seems to make it all the way there.
“We’ve tried trickle down. We’ve done [Propositions] 301, 123 and others. And none of those have made it to teacher pay, or very little of it. So you have to say, ‘School boards, you have to stop doing this,’” he said.
Allen said he supports giving schools more money for teacher pay hikes, and added that the House budget would include money for just that purpose, though he wouldn’t say how much.
Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed in this report.
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