Arizona teacher running for office: ‘I can no longer sit back’

Jun 6, 2018, 4:25 AM | Updated: 3:46 pm
Teacher Jennifer Samuels smiles for a photo after filing her petitions to get her name on the ballo...
Teacher Jennifer Samuels smiles for a photo after filing her petitions to get her name on the ballot in November. (Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

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 — Teachers in Arizona are getting second jobs not because they’re struggling financially, but because they want to buy boats and bigger houses.

Those comments from House Majority Leader John Allen last year outraged an eight-grade teacher who’s now running for his seat.

Jennifer Samuels, who teaches at Desert Shadows Middle School in Scottsdale, collected more than 500 signatures in 17 days, with the help from other teachers, to put her name on the ballot in November.

She called Allen’s comments “demeaning, demoralizing, and incorrect.”

“Teachers don’t have second job so we can afford boats,” she said. “They have second jobs so they can pay their household finances.”

Allen’s comments aren’t what motivated Samuels to run for office, but they did spark her interest in state politics. Last year, she went through a candidate training through Emerge Arizona, which is a group trying to get more Democratic women into public office.

The mother of three said she planned to run for office in 2020. But she 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,” Samuels said. “I listened to every word they had to say, and they weren’t there for our kids.”

The approved budget included a 20 percent teacher pay raise by the year 2020 as well as $371 million in flexible spending to public schools over the next five years.

But Samuels said the budget fell short of addressing a number of issues facing Arizona schools, including crowded classrooms, per pupil spending, outdated textbooks and rundown buildings.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.

Samuels isn’t the only teacher motivated to run for office this year.

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. On the Republican side, three former teachers filed petitions, according to a spokesperson for the state’s GOP.

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Arizona teacher running for office: ‘I can no longer sit back’