#RedforEd teacher strike, 1 year later: Have schools improved since they got more money?

Lily Altavena

One year ago, Arizona teachers walked out of their classrooms for a week.

They weren't solely protesting stagnant teacher salaries, they said. They were protesting classroom conditions, too.

A decade after the Great Recession, education money decided by the Arizona Legislature remained below 2008 levels. The lack of money, they said, didn't show only in their paychecks: It showed in Arizona classrooms.

On social media, teachers from across the state posted photos of textbooks from the early 2000s, soiled carpets and broken chairs. 

A year later, and some money from Gov. Doug Ducey's plan to raise teacher salaries 20 percent by 2020 has made it to their salaries. Some of the $100 million in additional assistance for district and charter schools has made it to the schools, too — money that Ducey pitched for capital. 

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District and charter additional assistance can be spent on everything from textbooks and classroom supplies to school buses and small-scale building renovations.

But has the money made a difference yet? We asked teachers and parents, who submitted their photos and thoughts about the shifts they have — and haven't — seen in the state's public schools. 

Most said that the problems they dealt with in 2018 are still the problems they're dealing with in 2019, although some wrote in that schools made only a few changes or that they had few problems in the first place.

What's changed

It appears changes depend on the district.

One teacher who did not specify her district wrote in the Arizona Educators United Facebook group that her school got "some building repair." 

On Twitter, someone in the Florence Unified School District wrote, "We got brand-new energy efficient lights in our whole building and a new school van."

Another person in the Tucson Unified School District wrote that the district, "Finally, after 10 years, gave librarians at each school a book budget but only a month to order." 

And some have heard promises. In the Arizona Educators United group, one person wrote, "There has been talk of replacing our 35-year-old carpet, but nothing has happened." 

An additional $68 million in additional assistance is planned for the next school year — Ducey's plan is to phase in a total of $371 million over five years until 2023. Education leaders have said Ducey's money, both the additional assistance and teacher salary money, is just a fraction of what is needed for public education

Ducey's budget for the next year allocates more money to the School Facilities Board — which grants money to districts for new schools and major building repairs — called building renewal. Building renewal requests to the facilities board from districts have nearly tripled, according to the governor's office.

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School districts also receive local tax money from bond and override elections. Bond money goes for school projects such as major renovations and building new schools. Overrides usually supplement teacher salaries and supplies such as textbooks.

The majority of bond and override elections in Maricopa County passed this year, but some bigger districts' measures — such as Peoria Unified's $189 million bond — failed. Some of that bond money would have gone to school building improvements.  

The additional money depends on the state budget, which is usually decided by state legislators in the spring. 

What hasn't changed 

The list of what hasn't changed is longer than what has, according to those who responded on Facebook, Twitter and over email: 

  • "The only change is most of the covers are coming off my 20 year old Biology books instead of some of the covers coming off!" 
  • "I have textbooks that are outdated, insufficient for current standard, falling apart, and with ripped pages." 
  • "My thermostat is not hooked up with the system because it can't be because the system is too old. My textbooks are falling apart. They're older than my freshmen. My district expects ... paperback copies of novels to last 5+ years. After 3 years, our To Kill a Mockingbird novels and Fahrenheit 451 novels are slowly dying." 
  • "We are now on copy paper rationing, which totally stinks when you teach kindergarten and you don't have textbooks."
  • "My carpet has been vacuumed (maybe) once this year — by a student. Not our janitors fault. They are severely understaffed and no relief in sight." 
  • "My school has had intermittent water and power failures this year but they don’t have the money to fix every problem in the district. I have gone through ten student chairs in two months because they keep breaking." 

Chad Renning, a software development teacher at Phoenix Union High School District, wrote in a text message that while he appreciates his district, learning conditions "haven't improved from last year." 

"It was nice and appreciated to get a raise, but there are still buildings that need to be repaired and improved, textbooks updated, classroom supplies purchases, and support professionals still need raises," he wrote.

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Follow Lily Altavena on Twitter: @LilyAlta

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: #RedforEd teacher strike, 1 year later: Have schools improved since they got more money?