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‘Red for Ed’ movement sparks Arizona teachers to be politically engaged

Teachers crowd the lobby of the Arizona Senate as Arizona legislature debate a budget negotiated by majority Republicans and GOP Gov. Doug Ducey Thursday, May 3, 2018, at the Capitol in Phoenix. The budget gives teachers big raises but falls short of their demands for better school funding. The teachers, in the sixth day of walk outs, have agreed to return to the classroom once the budget has been approved by the legislature.(AP Photo/Matt York)

KTAR News 92.3 FM continues to cover education in Arizona. This week’s focus is on “The Changing Face of the Arizona Teacher.”

PHOENIX — Jennifer Samuels planned to run for office in 2020. But the eighth-grade English teacher decided to move up her timeline after sitting through the all-night budget debate at the Arizona State Legislature in May.

“I had a front-row seat in the Senate gallery, and I watched as our senators debated the budget,” she said. “I listened to every word they had to say, and they weren’t there for our kids.”

Samuels said the budget fell short of addressing crowded classrooms, per pupil spending, outdated textbooks and rundown buildings.

“I can no longer sit back and wait for others to take care of this problem for us,” she said.

With the help from other teachers, she collected more than 500 signatures in 17 days to put her name on the ballot this fall. She’s running for the Arizona House as a Democrat in the Republican-leaning Legislative District 15.

She’s one of the thousands of Arizona teachers who were fired up by the “Red for Ed” movement. During all six days of the teacher walkout, they spent their day at the state Capitol visiting lawmakers and learning about the legislative process.

They didn’t get all their demands met, but they took a major step toward increasing teacher pay and restoring funding for public schools.

Gov. Doug Ducey and state lawmakers agreed to give teachers a 20 percent pay raise by the year 2020 – perhaps the biggest raise for teachers in state history. They also agreed to give $371 million in flexible spending to public schools over the next five years.

“That is power,” said political analyst Mike O’Neil. “It’s a movement quite unlike any I have never seen in terms of its spontaneity.”

O’Neil noted that prior to the “Red for Ed” movement gaining momentum, Ducey had proposed giving teachers a 1 percent pay raise for the next school year. That all changed when the governor had “50,000 to 70,000 teachers on his doorstep,” O’Neil said.

Now, educators are continuing their efforts by volunteering for campaigns and vowing to make their voices heard in the upcoming elections. And some, like Samuels, are running for elected office.

Mendy Gomez is another educator whose name will be on the ballot this year.

She said education funding cuts over the last few years and the poor conditions inside classrooms motivated her to run for the state Senate in Legislative District 14.

“I just came to the moment where I said, ‘Enough. I have to stop complaining about the issues and really start doing something about it,’” Gomez said.

More than 40 current or former educators filed petitions by the May 30 deadline to run as Democrats for legislative seats, according to the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Three former teachers will be on the ballot as Republicans, a spokesperson for the state’s GOP told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Some teachers are also planning to change the way they vote in November and in future elections.

“For the first time in my life, I will not vote party lines,” said Elisabeth Milich, a second grade teacher at Whispering Wind Academy.“I have never done that before.”

Milich, who is a Republican, said she will vote for candidates who are pro-public education.

Other teachers have vowed to do the same, begging the question: What impact will teachers have on the election in November and in future elections.

O’Neil said teachers have proven they have the ability to mobilize and could be a key voter bloc in November.

“It’s potentially a force the likes of which this state has never seen before,” he said.

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