Save Our Schools Arizona is not only gearing up for a possible referendum on whatever lawmakers may replace existing voucher expansion legislation with but also for a potential initiative to address public education funding shortfalls.
SOS Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker told the Arizona Capitol Times that the anti-voucher group responsible for sending Proposition 305 to the ballot is calling on volunteers to commit now to carrying petitions this summer for a referendum or initiative “or whatever we come up with.”
She said the extension of the education sales tax under Proposition 301 was “fine” but wouldn’t put anything substantial forward. Now, SOS Arizona and its allies are considering a new initiative to meet demands made by Arizona Educators United, a recent addition to the grassroots movement around public school funding and teacher pay.
Arizona Educators United organizer Noah Karvelis laid out those demands Wednesday evening as thousands of teachers, students, public education advocates and elected representatives clad in red gathered at the Capitol. Many carried signs, such as one that read, “I had to borrow money to make this sign,” and wore “I don’t want to strike, but I will” stickers.
Karvelis called for a 20 percent pay hike for teachers, competitive pay for all education employees, a permanent salary structure including annual raises, the restoration per-pupil funding to 2008 levels and no new tax cuts until per pupil funding reaches the national average.
“If you won’t do your job, we will,” Penich-Thacker said, referring to legislators.
On the table are options like additional taxes, closing corporate tax loopholes and a litany of other options, though nothing specific is set in stone; Prop. 305 may still go to the November ballot, after all, if legislators opt not to alter the voucher expansion legislation passed last session.
And what they ultimately choose to do will be based on Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature’s response to the demands of educators.
Penich-Thacker said the thousands who showed up at the Capitol – some of whom could be seen making the walk from Downtown Phoenix – were a testament to how serious the situation in Arizona is.
“For a lot of legislators, I think this just boils down to numbers on a spreadsheet or pages in the budget, but this shows that people feel this in their day to day lives,” she said.
Susan Suchoki has been teaching for decades, but she said she’ll still have student loans to pay off when she retires.
And she wondered if Ducey was really paying attention to her and her colleagues.
“I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t know how to read,” she said.” Maybe his teacher was underpaid and in a bad mood that day.”
Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, was wandering among the sea of red protesters, listening to his peers in the education community.
Coleman played a central role in seeing that Prop. 301 was extended just last week, though he says Ducey did not get enough credit for his part in it.
That was a necessary first step, Coleman said, but he hoped there would be more to come.
“I teach in a small district that’s really struggling to stay afloat, to keep our teachers,” he said as he watched protesters circle the Capitol courtyard. “It’s a little bit personal with me. I’ve been there. I know how they feel.”