Republic editorial: Protests paid off, but a walkout would be unwise.
Protests paid off, but a walkout would be unwise
Teachers put the pressure on. GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey responded with proposals that represent good progress, without being complete solutions.
Nevertheless, teachers need to retool their strategies going forward, because any hope of gaining public support with a walkout has been co-opted.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard outlined a plan to hike teacher pay 6 percent in the coming year, with annual increases that would bring the total to 24 percent in five years.
This would not be new money. Lawmakers would redirect money the governor wanted to restore K-12 capital funding, which was so deeply cut during the recession that underfunding is the subject of a lawsuit.
Unmet needs for building maintenance, computers, school buses and books remain.
Mesnard’s proposal amounts to pitting teachers against the schools where they teach.
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Educators Association, called it a “shell game.”
Arizona needs new money in education.
The governor’s plan would provide an immediate 9 percent raise, with a “net pay increase” of 20 percent by 2020.
Ducey’s proposal does not raise taxes or reallocate money from other education needs. It relies on a number of sources, including higher-than-average state revenue.
Both proposals fall short of teacher demands for higher overall spending on schools and more-competitive salaries for support personnel.
Yet both represent direct responses to teacher demands and public pressure.
Ducey’s in particular is promising and should not be dismissed.
By responding to teacher demands, both lawmakers and the governor have changed the discussion.
Teachers must be wise about their own response.
It is time to abandon talk of walkouts, which were never a good idea.
What’s more, individual teachers need to guard against getting swept away in the groupthink energy that is more about passion than good strategy.
Let’s be clear: The Arizona Republic Editorial Board has steadfastly supported teachers and public education.
We know how important their job is. We know how badly schools need funding.
But a teacher walkout would only offer a jolt of instant gratification in exchange for undermining the goodwill and public support teachers and schools now enjoy.
A walkout would be particularly counterproductive, given movement to provide higher wages and better school funding. Teacher strategies now need to reflect that progress.
Consider the direction things were moving even before proposals for raises from Mesnard and Ducey.
Earlier this session, lawmakers passed and Ducey signed an extension so the six-tenths of 1 cent sales tax under Proposition 301 would not expire in 2021. The sunset of Prop. 301 would have cost schools $667 million a year.
This 20-year extension was not on the legislative agenda when the session began. It happened because of political pressure on behalf of schools.
It happened because teachers told a compelling story and won public support.
What’s more, leaders in the business community have supported increasing the sales tax to fund education.
So does GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas — and Republic conservative columnist Robert Robb.
The teachers and schools have powerful friends across the political spectrum.
As the state moves in the direction of better funding for education, teachers need to shape the discussion from their perch on the moral high ground.
A walkout would erode public and political support by inconveniencing tens of thousands of parents.
Teachers promised to be there for the kids. They signed contracts agreeing to work for wages they knew were low.
A walkout would cede the moral high ground on which teachers are now firmly standing. It would empower those who — even in these days of underfunding — insist schools have enough and teachers are just greedy.
(And, yes, there are people who think that way; they send us letters.)
Don’t forget: A proposal for higher teacher pay has to make it through the Legislature before it can get into teacher paychecks.
But higher teacher salaries should not come at the expense of other education needs.
Teachers need raises and K-12 education needs to be restored to pre-recession spending levels. Then schools need to be funded to meet the demands of preparing young people to compete in a global economy.
That will take new revenue. Public support for teachers and schools led to movement in the right direction.
Teachers can build on that progress without leaving the classroom.
Gov. Doug Ducey bowed to pressure from Arizona’s teachers and proposed a “net pay increase” of 20 percent by 2020. In response, teachers must be careful not to cede the moral high ground.