At the beginning of the year, I had written this article, 2018: The Year of Life-Giving Love. Unbeknownst to me, I was on a journey of historic proportion that would expose my inner strength to “do something” for change.
Shake the World
Back at the end of February I found a rock with the inspirational quote, “In a gentle way you will shake the world.” Little did I know that not only would I be a part of a movement to shake the world, but to do it within 2 months and not so gentle. Decades of funding cuts in Arizona to public education, with more bills in the Legislative budget to divert more funds from the school districts, resulted in a spark that exploded 10 years of festering frustration and anger over the abysmal lack of funding.
We wore red and walked into our schools to show our solidarity of a gathering storm. We stood out among the public on streets and parking lots, by libraries and restaurants to educate the public about the lack of funding for schools. In that time, the Governor only proposed a 1% increase for pay raises for the next year with no funding planned for schools or support staff. When the movement announced the plan to walk out a week later on April 26th, the Governor found money the next day, still negating the problems that have festered by trying to appease educators with a 20% raise over the next 3 years. There was no plan for funding our students’ classrooms, dilapidated schools, and funds for support staff.
Walk in Solidarity
Therefore, we walked. We walked together over 2 miles, 75,000 educators strong, in a sea of red to the Capitol to knock on the door of the Governor and Legislators’ offices to let them know, we were tired, we were angry, and we were not leaving until they fully funded public schools properly.
During that time, we were called horrific names, cussed at, accused of neglecting our students, called un-American, and communists for wanting better learning conditions for our students and better working conditions for our staff. We were locked out of the Senate building at times and forced to sit on the lobby floors during other times because the Senate refused to open the overflow rooms with chairs for the teachers. We stayed, we watched, we chanted, we made ourselves known, we were anchored in and forcing change.
Over the 6 days of protest at the Capitol, we found out that we have a collective Herculean strength that cannot be undone. We celebrated small victories together and cried together many times. We missed our families, we missed our students, we missed our normalcy of life, but we know we had a movement that was strong and powerful. We refused to stop until we enacted a change of funding for our educational system.
Make Presence Known
We sat in hearings and listened to bills that would affect public education, standing up to speak against those bills with passion for the students we teach. We marched and sat on the Capitol lawn en masse to discuss the proceedings and hearings we attended. We made appointments with Legislators in their offices and met them in the courtyard. We spent all day and night- some camping out overnight in Legislator’s offices, while others showed up at 3 and 4 am to watch the House and Senate hearings; letting the Legislators know we were there and not going away until the public schools were a part of the conversation.
They didn’t like us there. They tried to pull shenanigans and recess their meetings until the late evenings and early morning hours. We refused to leave and continued our pressure. Together the educators of Arizona made an extremely powerful vice-grip and never let it relax. The Legislators and Governor got the message.
In order to restore funding to 2008, the state would have had to find a way to replace 1.1 billion dollars in cuts to education. When this movement first started, the Governor only was willing to offer 65 million dollars which would have gone toward teacher salaries alone. We didn’t find that adequate as retaining teachers was not our only educational problem. We demanded he take public education seriously. We were and still are in a crisis for funding that must be addressed each year until funding is restored. When looking at the numbers, the movement was able to keep the pressure on the Governor and Legislators to commit to 400 million dollars, instead of 65 million dollars for public education. It was a fraction of what we needed, but more than what was originally offered. 698 million dollars are still not restored with no sustainable funding to do so. We have more work to do during the next few years of Legislative sessions.
The Legislative process in the State of Arizona is complex and deceptive. As we found out, it can be changed through force. We will not become apathetic again about our educational system.
Make a Difference
Did we make a difference? Absolutely. We opened up an awareness about the underfunding of public schools. Without this movement, we were on the same wheel of funding, with no solution in place. With this movement we forced a conversation among the public and the Legislative body that we need help and will not go away easily.
Did we make some people upset? Absolutely and they should be. Public education, where 95% of the students of Arizona attend, is abysmally underfunded. We are bottom of the nation to be exact. With this new funding we went from 50th place to remain in last place. The students of this state are losing out on an education equitable to the rest of the nation due to no plan to retain educators and no plan to fund the classrooms to the level they should be funded, equal to the national average.
We are a large red giant- aware, awake, and organized to continue the fight for public education. Our students deserve it! We shook the world in a not-so-gentle way and education is now the topic of conversations and important again.