Kenilworth Elementary school teachers walked, hand in hand, up a red carpet and through Kenilworth’s main entrance to start Wednesday’s school day as a part of statewide Red for Ed walk-ins.
Rather than stage a walkout, Molly Martin, Kenilworth first grade teacher and site liaison for Arizona Educators United, arranged the Kenilworth Red for Ed event to occur from 6:45 to 7:30 am right before school started.
The Red For Ed movement advocates for higher salaries for Arizona teachers and better school funding, and calls for people to wear red to show support. Teachers across the state have staged “walk-ins” and walkouts in recent weeks.
“We decided we wanted to explode red and show our support for the movement,” Martin said. “[This event] is the most important. Education needs more funding and as a state we can do better.”
Martin’s statements were echoed by many present as teachers, parents and students alike wore red shirts and beads while others carried Red for Ed signs.
Kenilworth Principal Anthony Pietrangeli was equally excited for the event, shaking hands and speaking with parents.
“The teachers are here every day working really hard, and we want to build some awareness that we need more help to do better for the kids,” Pietrangeli said. “Hopefully we have different situations where we can bring more qualified teachers on board and we can give the teachers an opportunity to focus on one job and not have to leave school at dismissal to run to their second job.”
Pietrangeli also elaborated on the reasoning behind holding a walk-in rather than a walkout.
“The organizers of the event were really concerned about school safety,” Pietrangeli said. “We’ve got work to do, we’ve got a lot of thinking and learning to do before the end of the school year. Without us being inside that building there’s no place for the kids to go.”
Arizona ranks 45th in the nation overall for K-12 education, according to Education Week’s 2018 Quality Counts report. The same report ranked Arizona last in the nation for adjusted per-pupil education spending, indicating the state’s system is vastly underfunded.
Rosalinda Ramirez, a veteran teacher of twenty-nine years and reading specialist at Kenilworth said teacher pay raises are long overdue.
“I haven’t seen something like this in quite some times and it was due,” Ramirez said. “For 10 years straight I was taking home the same salary. Benefits go up but our raises don’t. We have to get the funding into our classrooms where the students need it. Yes, we have a lot of knowledge behind us but we also need the tools so we can educate.”
Arizona also ranks last in the nation for teacher pay, according to a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
Education funding has been a longstanding issue in Arizona. According to a 2016 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, Arizona is one of several states still spending less on K-12 education now than before the recession.
Gov. Doug Ducey pledged to reverse recession-era cuts to K-12 education in his budget for the 2019 fiscal year. Ducey also recently signed into law Proposition 301, which secures some funding for local school districts.
Martin and many other teachers are not happy with the current state of affairs and want more money to go toward school funding and teacher pay increases.
“We want to see our schools thrive and right now they’re not,” Martin said.
Krista Lam, mother of an 8th grade Kenilworth student, was energized and said she supported the teachers’ demands and a possible future teacher walkout.
“I would like to see a teacher walkout. I think the only way we’re gonna anything accomplished in this state is if we start demanding it,” Lam said. “We’ve gotta get teachers funded in schools; they’re using 30 year old textbooks. There’s no excuse for that.”
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