|Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press.|
Slashing funding for public education has long been a favored tactic of Republican politicians who realize that their wealthy supporters could care less about public schools as their place their little darlings in private - and often segregated - schools. The other pillar of the Republican base, the Christofascists and evangelicals in turn hold hatred for public schools since they teach inconvenient things like science, especially the theory of evolution, and fact based sex education. Hence all the GOP efforts to provide vouchers and/or charter schools to the cheers of Christian extremist groups.
For most Americans, however, public schools are an essential part of what the government is supposed to provide. Good public schools maintain property values, make an area attractive for business investment, and provide their students with a path for upward social mobility. Belatedly, more and more of the public and school teachers are waking to the damage that GOP attacks on funding for public schools is causing. Soccer moms may be brain dead politically on most issues, but trash their child's school and even they can grasp the fact that things need to change. As a column in the New York Times notes, the revolt against GOP efforts to defund public education has spread to Arizona. Here are excerpts:
On Thursday, a historic walkout by teachers and the support staff closed more than 1,000 public schools in Arizona. The state became the latest and the largest to be swept by a labor insurgency among underpaid educators that started in February in West Virginia, then spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky and, also on Thursday, Colorado.The wildfire spread of the teachers’ movement — in parts of the country that are singularly hostile to organized labor — is one of the more surprising and exciting developments of this otherwise bleak political moment. Conservatives are right to worry: We’re seeing a citizens’ revolt against their policies.
There are several interrelated factors behind the teachers’ movement’s explosive growth. Most significant, of course, is that teachers in some red states feel backed into a corner after a decade or more of disinvestment by Republican governments. Because of a series of tax cuts, particularly over the last 10 years, Arizona teachers are among the worst paid in the nation, and they have some of the country’s largest class sizes — up to 40 students to a single teacher, according to Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association teachers’ union.
This week, I visited a K-8 school in the scrublands of South Phoenix, a flat, dusty, wide-open area that’s only a 15-minute drive from downtown but feels much farther. (The principal asked me not to identify it, or him, for fear that his school would suffer administrative reprisals for letting a journalist in.) The science teacher told me her classes have 30 to 36 students each. Aside from desks, she’d either bought most of what was in her classroom, or had it donated — not just books, but also chairs and even a water dispenser, which the class needed during the seven months when the school’s drinking fountains were broken.
The teachers’ strike in West Virginia made Arizona educators think that something could happen. Teachers told me they were also inspired by other bursts of activism nationwide, from the Women’s March to the Never Again movement for gun control. In Phoenix this week, I went to an organizing meeting in the suburban backyard of an elementary school teacher named Lisa Wyatt, where teachers and parents made plans to knock on their neighbors’ doors to build support for the walkout. “To see these kids organizing marches across the country, it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, we can do that!’” she told me.
The impetus for the walkout in Arizona, like those in other states, . . . began with a Facebook group, Arizona Educators United, and a hashtag, #RedforEd, which an elementary school music teacher, Noah Karvelis, had created to encourage school employees to wear red in solidarity with their brethren in West Virginia.
It’s not a coincidence that the teacher walkouts have happened in states where unions are weak. . . . . because of its abysmal salaries, Arizona has such an acute teacher shortage that many schools are already hiring teachers without formal education training, some with only high school diplomas. Small-government conservatives have pushed teachers to the point where many feel they have nothing to lose.
Still, it’s not clear how long the educators can hold out. This month, Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, scored a public relations victory by offering teachers a 20 percent raise. Many educators didn’t trust him to deliver, saying that his plan had no dedicated revenue source. Nor did it address the teachers’ demand to restore education funding to 2008 levels.
Kudos to these teachers. Let's hope the revolt expands further.But as we’ve seen all over the country since Donald Trump’s election, protest is contagious, and builds on itself. Ducey, meanwhile, is up for re-election this year in a state that’s trending blue. “Maybe I’m foolishly confident, but we have a ton of power,” Karvelis told me. “We have the truth on our side. We have the people on our side. And we have people who are not afraid to take a risk.”