Red for Ed was a grassroots movement led by Arizona Educators United, and is part of a national outcry from teachers and education advocates about low salaries.
The movement had accomplished many things in the protest such as $644.1 million for a 20 percent increase in teacher pay for the 2020 school year; these raises will be ongoing, protected in the base budget and inflated along with $304.9 million for 10 percent teacher pay raise in the 2018 school year.
But after a year, what does the Arizona education arena look like?
According to interviews, written survey responses and other communications with more than 100 school superintendents across Arizona having a 20 percent or more teacher shortage (Azfamily.com), the crisis is causing dozens of districts to use emergency teacher certifications and other newly developed tactics to put otherwise unqualified teachers in charge of classrooms.
Nowhere is that challenge starker than at the Toltec Elementary School District, located halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. Just one week before school was set to start, the district still had 20 openings for certified teachers. That amounts to 30 percent of the total teaching positions in the district.
With this extreme lack of qualified teachers, Toltec superintendent Denise Rogers had to do something drastic.
“For those 20 positions that we are short, we cover with growing our own teachers,” Ms. Rogers said.
She identified parents, volunteers and paraprofessionals who were already in her community, and who appeared to have a knack at working with children. The disparity of the student-teacher ratio caused Ms. Rogers to use unqualified community members to teach students. According to Azfamily.com, “The biggest gamble was hiring Jeremy Jones as a PE teacher. Jones had not graduated from college and admits he made bad decisions when he was younger.”
Arizona ranks 45th in the United States when it comes to education funding, according to azpbs.org.
Even after Red for Ed’s forced increase in education spending, Arizona still ranks below states with only a quarter of our population. Peoria also had 20 openings left to fill in the week before school started.
But this district has more than 2,000 teachers, so its vacancy rate is small compared to Toltec’s and that of many other districts.
This dire lack of teachers means that there are more experienced teachers leaving the business than new teachers are graduating from Arizona universities.
Until that changes, district leaders will be forced to come up with ways to fill the gaps. With the lack of public and private education instructors, we need to cherish the ones we have.