Pay raise gives political boost to teachers, Ducey

Carmen Forman//May 3, 2018

Pay raise gives political boost to teachers, Ducey

Carmen Forman//May 3, 2018

Striking teachers silently cheer using their hands to follow decorum on not clapping or verbally reacting from the Senate gallery while senators meet in Senate chambers on April 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)
Striking teachers silently cheer using their hands to follow decorum on not clapping or verbally reacting from the Senate gallery while senators meet in Senate chambers on April 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

Long past his normal bedtime May 2, Zach Stenerson sat in a camping chair in front of the state Capitol, watching one of the last “Red for Ed” rallies unfold.

About a week after he first went on strike, the 36-year-old history and economics teacher spent more than four hours watching the Arizona Senate finalize budget details, including pay raises for teachers.

He was one of hundreds of red-clad protesters to pack the Senate and House of Representatives galleries — seats normally taken up by lobbyists and other Capitol insiders — as lawmakers spent hours debating the state budget bills.

“One of the reasons I really wanted to be here is because I know it’s not over,” he said. “When I was up in the gallery and listening to all the people in the lobby cheering and stuff like that, it really exposed Arizona government.”

Gov. Doug Ducey is the leader “Red for Ed” supporters love to hate.

Likewise, there’s no love lost between Ducey and those he dismissed as staging “political theater.”

But putting aside the adversarial relationship between the Governor’s Office and leaders of the teacher pay movement, both Ducey and Arizona teachers have benefitted from the “Red for Ed” momentum that swept through Arizona this legislative session.

After suffering more than a month of intense public scrutiny as teachers demanded raises and lashed out against the administration, Ducey listened and delivered on one of their requests.

Protesters will eventually abandon Capitol grounds, but Ducey’s victory — providing a 20-percent pay bump for teachers over several years — will carry on and give the governor a major talking point in his re-election bid.

Meanwhile, Arizona teachers, having mobilized en masse in a way the state has never seen before, will see the largest pay increase they’ve received in years when they go back to school in the fall. They could also keep the political momentum going into an election year when Republicans across the country look increasingly vulnerable because of widespread dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump.

Ducey’s initial reluctance to grant teacher pay raises above the 1-percent he already promised in his proposed budget fired up “Red for Ed” supporters. In return, the ever-vocal movement pushed Ducey to re-evaluate what he could offer teachers.

Call it symbiosis.

The end of the teachers’ strike won’t be the end of the “Red for Ed” movement, its leaders insisted this week.

As for next steps, organizers don’t have any plans yet. Arizona Educators United organizer Noah Karvelis tentatively suggested teachers would hold post-strike “walk-ins” at their schools to thank parents and students for their understanding and support.

After that, it’s an election year, but organizers have no concrete plans to keep up the momentum through November.

“I guarantee there are a lot of people walking around down here in red every single day, looking at themselves in the mirror saying, ‘If they can’t get it done, I’ll get it done. One way or another,’” Karvelis said.

While protesting at the Capitol, striking teachers have issued thinly veiled threats to lawmakers, reminding them of the upcoming elections this fall. In the Senate gallery just before midnight May 2, one woman held up a small sign that read
“11-6-18” — the date of the November general election.

“Please know that in November, the ballot box does listen,” one Phoenix teacher taunted members of the Senate Appropriations Committee before they voted on the K-12 budget bill. The teacher pleaded with members to oppose the budget, but acknowledged his request was unlikely to be fulfilled in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The Legislature approved the K-12 budget bill mostly along party lines. Several Senate Democrats, who had been largely critical of Ducey’s plan, also voted in favor of the bill.

It’s exciting to see other teachers learn about the legislative process and become inspired to become politically active as they watched the budget shake out, said Paloma Perry, a Goodyear history teacher.

The “Red for Ed” movement is a sign things are about to drastically change within Arizona, said the third-year teacher.

“It’s really fired a lot of people up,” she said. “If 75,000 of us are willing to leave school for a week, what’s stopping us from letting people know how we feel at the ballot box this November?”

But Arizona teachers may have just handed Ducey the opportunity he needed to cement his re-election bid. From now until November, Ducey can brag that he gave teachers 20-percent pay raises without raising taxes.

Earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence touted Ducey’s teacher pay plan at an event to discuss Trump’s policies, including the new federal tax law. Ducey introduced Pence, a longtime friend, at the “America First Policies” event in Tempe that at times felt like a campaign rally.

“Governor Ducey promised to invest in your schools and support your teachers,” he told an excited crowd. “Just a few weeks ago, I just heard that Governor Ducey released a plan to increase teachers’ salaries by 20 percent by 2020 because Governor Doug Ducey believes that Arizona’s teachers deserve a raise.”

Ducey signed the K-12 budget bill, including teacher pay raises, into law in the early hours May 3, before lawmakers had completed work on all of the budget bills.

“This is a real win for our teachers, for our kids, for our educators in the classroom.” Ducey said in a video of the bill signing. “It’s a good way to start the day.”

By 6:15 a.m., the Governor’s Office had sent out a news release touting Ducey’s accomplishment. Within an hour, the Republican Governors Association, which paid for weeks of TV ads praising Ducey’s teacher pay plan, sent out a release saying the governor had “delivered for the people of Arizona today.”

Some of Ducey’s other legislative priorities — like his school safety bill that initially included funding for more school resource officers — took a backseat to the governor’s teacher pay push.

In addition to the pay raises, Ducey will be able to tout on the campaign trail that he extended the 0.6 sales tax in Proposition 301 this year. While Ducey expressed support for extending the levy last year, he didn’t push to re-up this legislative session.

That is until amid the “Red for Ed” ramp up, a bipartisan coalition of legislators worked together to pass the extension — which some have argued is a tax increase and goes against the pledge Ducey took not to increase taxes.

Teachers forced Ducey’s hand this session, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson. Farley is one of several Democrats seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Ducey in the gubernatorial race.

Teachers showed their strength and made their voices heard with “walk-ins” across the state several weeks ago, Farley said. It’s likely no coincidence, Ducey called a press conference the next day to announce his teacher pay plan, he said.

“The ‘Red for Ed’ movement has changed the game entirely,” said Farley, speaking to its supporters earlier this week.

“You have changed the world already, and this budget is an example of how far you’ve pushed things.”