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Teachers hope summer vacation comes before budget passed

(Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)

Democratic legislators speculate that Republicans are motivated to end the 2019 session to avoid a repeat of teachers and other demonstrators marching in large numbers and filling the spectator galleries of the Legislature.

The potential for red-clad teachers again descending on the Capitol could motivate legislators to wrap up budget negotiations before school is out for summer.

Many Arizona teachers already had plans to attend budget hearings and votes at the state Senate and House of Representatives. But legislators’ inability to adopt a spending plan sooner presents the Red for Ed movement with an opportunity to spend even more time at the Legislature’s doorstep.

The presence last year of tens of thousands of teachers on strike and dressed in red at the Capitol forced the hands of the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey to pass a 20 percent pay raise over three years. The Red for Ed movement has remained alive, but has not made a substantial presence during this year’s legislative session. That could change.

Classes end in the Phoenix Union High School District and Mesa Public Schools on May 22 and May 23, respectively, and other school districts across Arizona will soon dismiss their students, too, leaving teachers with ample free time to kick-start their summer vacation at the Capitol.

Jenn Huerta, an eighth grade math teacher at Coatimundi Middle School in Rio Rico, said a tweet from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, amounted to a challenge for teachers to show up in force.

“Townsend tweeted May 1 she was disappointed to see so few educators at the Capitol. So, we need to go to remind them that we still need to fund our schools,” Huerta said. “Our vital support staff didn’t get raises, our class sizes are the largest in the nation, and our students deserve fully funded classrooms.”

Huerta said her colleagues in the Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District, where classes end on May 23, share that view. Social media message boards show some teachers already making plans for carpools to the Capitol.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, communications director for Save Our Schools Arizona, said teachers were already planning to have a presence during budget votes. Organizers with SOS Arizona were keeping teachers in the loop to let them know when budget bills are introduced and when voting on those bills begins.

“We’ve been encouraging that, planning that since the beginning,” she said. “It’s not like it’s a reaction to something. It’s just, they’ve been taking so damn long to make any progress in the (Legislature). Sso why not take advantage of it and show up even earlier?”

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said teachers’ presence would be more than welcome, at least as far as Democrats are concerned.

As for Republicans, Fernandez said she doesn’t think the majority party wants any part of another bout of Red for Ed protests.

“I think their goal is to get us out of here before Red for Ed gets here. They learned their lesson last time,” she said.

Democrats are in it for the long haul, Fernandez said.

“We’d love to see Red for Ed in the gallery when we’re debating the budget, so they can see what’s going on,” Fernandez said.

House Majority Leader Warren Petersen said his colleagues aren’t fazed by the end of the school year.

“You always welcome anybody to any budget discussions,” the Gilbert Republican said. “If people want to get more involved, that’s something we all should welcome and encourage. I don’t have any opposition to people getting involved.”

Penich-Thacker said teachers aren’t buying it.

“We absolutely know that they don’t want more of us there, and that’s exactly why we want to be there,” she said. “If school lets out before [a budget deal], then we’ll just say come down and be present in greater numbers.”

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