Teachers Cuck Arizona Republicans
Arizona teachers no longer on walkout, but are still quite striking.
Arizona public schools are back in session today after the state legislature passed a budget that includes a grudging 20 percent pay raise for teachers over three years. It's not what the teachers walked out for, but it's a start, and the teachers say they will keep pressure on the legislature -- which adjourned after passing the budget -- next year.
As it was, the Lege was up all night working on the bill, and only passed the final version in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Gov. Doug Ducey signed the teacher pay increase at 6:10 a.m., and after five days, the strike was over. Teachers watching the votes actually cheered for every Democrat who voted against the budget, because it didn't include other items the teachers had demanded, like increased funding for certified support staff, restoration of a billion dollars in education cuts since the recession, and a freeze on tax cuts until school spending is returned to at least 2008 levels.
Republicans also rejected an amendment by Democratic state Rep. Mitzi Epstein that would have mandated a pupil-to-counselor ratio of 250 to 1, instead of the far larger existing ratio of 900 to 1. But at least the body also rejected an amendment offered by Republican state Rep. Kelly Townsend, who wanted
to make it illegal for teachers to espouse political beliefs at work, to require the attorney general to investigate teachers or schools that allow political activity and to bar schools from closing during a walkout.
Oh, yes, that's Arizona, all right. But wingnuts did at least get a little extra in exchange for paying teachers a bit more: The final bill appropriates half a million bucks to establish a "freedom school" at Northern Arizona University to parallel already-established "freedom schools" at the University of Arizona and
Tempe Normal School Arizona State. While the name sounds like something from the civil rights movement, "freedom schools" are actually a Koch brothers-backed effort to set up programs preaching rightwing, free-market principles as a counterweight to the supposed liberal influence of higher education. Excellent work on improving education, Arizona.
In a development that wasn't directly related to the teacher strike, but which could have real consequences for next year's legislature, Republicans failed yesterday to repeal their 2017 expansion of Arizona's school voucher program, which means it will be on the ballot this fall as a referendum. While Rs and Gov. Ducey were very gung-ho last year about the prospects of shifting money from public schools to private and religious schools, this year's teacher activism gave them second thoughts. As the Arizona Republic explains,
Republican leadership in both houses tried to twist arms and lobby members in private meetings to get enough votes to repeal the program's expansion. Republicans were concerned the voucher bill will turn out public school advocates this November who likely would vote against them.
Yep, sure would be a big shame if a referendum on hurting public education drew a lot of interest from voters who are already fired up in support of teachers and public schools. Looks to us like all those #RedforEd t-shirts from the walkout will be on the streets come election time. We won't hold our breath expecting a Blue Wave in Arizona, but in a lot of close districts, turnout by supporters of public education just may make a difference. Go, pissed-off teachers!
Update: State Rep. Kelly Townsend, she of the failed amendment that would have required the AG to investigate teachers or schools that "allow political activity," became a minor Twitter celebrity Friday in the middle of a discussion of how public education is all socialist and bad. It started with a very simple question, and then went in very unexpected directions.
The internet explained. Within hours, she'd decided she'd like to be a lioness, and someone drew her as one. Twitter is strange.
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