If you want to know why thousands of Arizona teachers shut down schools across the state for Thursday’s massive statewide protest, follow the money.
At least 1,000 schools with a combined 840,000+ students were closed on Thursday for the walkout, in which teachers demanded not only a 20 percent pay increase, but a restoration of funding cuts amounting to roughly $1 billion since the austerity measures began during the Great Recession of 2008-2010. Despite Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) pledging to increase teacher salaries by 20 percent by 2020 with no tax increases, teachers say they won’t go back to class without a promise of additional education funding from the state legislature.
Images from Thursday’s walkout show what appears to be tens of thousands of teachers all marching on the state capitol in Phoenix despite high temperatures of roughly 95 degrees. The crowd of teachers swelled from sidewalk to sidewalk and stretched on for roughly a dozen city blocks according to photos taken by local media:
— Casey Kuhn (@CaseyAtTheDesk) April 26, 2018
— Gina Maravilla (@GinaMaravillaTV) April 26, 2018
— Geoff Espo (@Esposition) April 26, 2018
— AZ Education Assoc. 🍎🏫🎒📚✏️ (@ArizonaEA) April 26, 2018
The reason for the historic walkout and march — which is likely the largest teacher demonstration in history, even outnumbering the crowd at the Oklahoma state capitol earlier this month — is much easier to grasp when looking at hard numbers showing exactly how much teacher pay has been cut over the last several decades and comparing that with the amount given to corporations.
Vox tracked the amount of money granted to corporations through state tax incentives in Arizona and found that, according to data from the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the Seidman Institute at Arizona State University, the state lost out on roughly $5 billion in corporate tax revenue since 1993, when adjusting for inflation.
Simultaneously, over the last 15 years, the average teacher salary in Arizona has dropped by almost $10,000. Per-student spending has also suffered, with the state spending roughly $800 less per student today than it did ten years ago. This data signifies a trend of upward wealth redistribution, from teachers’ paychecks and childrens’ education to corporate balance sheets:
In a 2015 report, Arizona State University economist Tom Rex wrote that, despite lawmakers’ predictions that the tax cuts would spur economic growth, the data doesn’t support the hypothesis. Rex wrote that the only condition when the economic benefit from a tax cut outweighs the loss in tax revenue for the state is when tax burdens are significantly higher than the national average prior to a cut in tax rates.
“Even in the early 1990s when the tax reductions began, the overall state and local government tax burden was not higher than average,” Rex wrote. “No positive economic response to the tax reductions can be perceived.”
However, the cuts to schools are easily perceived when observing the poor condition of the school buildings and classrooms themselves. According to one anonymous teacher’s testimony given to the Arizona Republic, mice are a persistent problem for both her colleagues and her students.
“I’m grossed out when we have rodent feces on our desk. I’m grossed out when I hear my colleague scream bloody murder, only to find out a mouse jumped out of the fridge at her chest. I’m tired of screaming and jumping on my desk when one runs out,” the teacher wrote. “They get in kids’ lockers to where we hear them scream.”
A chemistry teacher in Phoenix tweeted images from her school that showed outdated history books declaring George W. Bush as the current President of the United States, globes and maps from before the fall of the Soviet Union, and warning signs telling teachers to keep the lights on due to an abundance of cockroaches. That same teacher tweeted a chart showing stagnant teacher pay, describing the difficulty of paying off student loans taken on for teachers to meet state-mandated education requirements:
AZ classrooms with desks that try to attack you, printers from 1997, history texts about our President George W. and maps that include the USSR. Is YOUR school falling apart? Show me. #RedForEd #beheard #AZteacherproblems pic.twitter.com/DWSoiRLWU6
— Mrs. Larsen (@LarsenChemistry) April 4, 2018
Here’s a fun game: how many years will it take to pay off student loans for required degrees and continuing ed when it takes 30 years to make $50k/year? #redfored #RaisesNotLies #azteacherproblems pic.twitter.com/4uW7XihLQl
— Mrs. Larsen (@LarsenChemistry) March 30, 2018
In addition to Arizona, teachers in Colorado also participated in a walkout and demonstrated at the state capitol in Denver. Teachers in both states plan on continuing the walkouts until lawmakers agree to meet their demands.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.