President of the Arizona Education Association explains the teacher strike

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President of the Arizona Education Association Joe Thomas talks about the teachers’ decision to strike and their goals for the strike.

Thomas says the walkout is still scheduled for later this week until movement is seen by the legislature and governor. If there is no conversation between Governor Doug Ducey and the negotiation team for teachers to “try to end the teacher crisis and bring one billion [dollars] back to our schools, then I think it is on,” he says.

“This has been about 10 years in the making,” Thomas says. “We went into a recession in 2008 and we started to see some cuts to our public school systems. We’ve come out of that recession and we are still one billion dollars per year less in investing in our students than we were back in 2008.”

That one billion dollars for education comes out to about $950 per student. Thomas says it contributes to why Arizona has the lowest-paid teachers in the nation, old textbooks and technology, and overcrowded classrooms.

“Teachers and educators and education support professionals are serious about their students and serious about the plight they see their schools and communities in,” Thomas says. “They are willing to risk their jobs to come back with more resources for their schools.”

There was a vote among educators on whether or not a walkout was the correct way to go. Over 78 percent of teachers said they were willing to risk their jobs and strike. Thomas says it’s a sign that they are serious, and they are done with politicians ignoring them.

Because of the November election this year, Thomas predicts that the revenue stream won’t be invested in schools until the 2019-2020 school year. It leaves a year and a half gap for teachers to struggle and make ends meet.

“We saw the governor come out with what he called a raise, but it’s not,” Thomas says. “It’s fund sweeps from the developmentally disabled, Medicaid and arch programs. Educators don’t want that money and rob Peter to pay Paul when Peter and Paul are both broke. We need to see new revenue streams.”

Thomas says that it’s necessary to solve the teacher crisis now, and for legislators to stop passing tax cuts then claiming there isn’t any money to go to education.

TED SIMONS: COMING UP NEXT ON ARIZONA HORIZON, THE HEAD OF THE ARIZONA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION UPDATES THE UPCOMING TEACHER WALKOUT. ALSO TONIGHT, WE'LL MEET WITH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT-8 CANDIDATE DEBBIE LESKO. AND HOW ONE HOSPITAL IS USING DOGS AS FURRY THERAPISTS. THAT'S NEXT, ON ARIZONA HORIZON.

PROMO: "ARIZONA HORIZON" IS MADE POSSIBLE WITH THE HELP OF ARIZONA HIGHWAYS MAGAZINE. AND BY THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE FRIENDS OF 8, MEMBERS OF YOUR ARIZONA PBS STATION. THANK YOU.

TED SIMONS: GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO ARIZONA HORIZON. I'M TED SIMONS. TEACHERS ACROSS THE STATE ARE EXPECTED TO WALK OFF THE JOB THIS THURSDAY IN A MOVE TO PROTEST STATE EDUCATION SPENDING. HERE WITH AN UPDATE IS JOE THOMAS:, PRESIDENT OF THE ARIZONA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION. GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US.

JOE THOMAS: THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

TED SIMONS: IS THE WALK OUT FOR THURSDAY STILL ON?


JOE THOMAS: IF WE DON'T SEE A DISCUSSION WITH THE GOVERNOR, TRY TO END THE TEACHER CRISIS AND BRING A BILLION DOLLARS BACK TO SCHOOLS, IT IS ON.


TED SIMONS: WHAT DOES THERE HAVE TO HAPPEN REGARDING THURSDAY?


JOE THOMAS:THIS IS TEN YEAR IN THE MAKING? WE WENT INTO A RECESSION IN 2008 AND SAW CUTS TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. WE HAVE COME OUT OF THE RECESSION AND WE ARE $1 BILLION A YEAR LESS IN INVESTMENT TO OUR STUDENT THAN IN 2008, THAT COMES OUT TO ABOUT $950 A STUDENT, AND THAT'S WHY WE ARE THE WORST PAID TEACHER IN THE NATION, OLD TEXTBOOKS, OVER CROWDED CLASSROOMS. THE TEACHERS HAVE HAD ENOUGH, AND ARE WILLING TO COME BACK WITH A BETTER DEAL FOR THEM, BETTER EDUCATION.


TED SIMONS: YOU MENTIONED EARLIER A MEETING, RESPONSE FROM THE GOVERNOR, AGAIN, WHAT WILL WORK FOR YOU?

JOE THOMAS: ONE WOULD BE ACKNOWLEDGMENT THAT THERE IS AN ISSUE. FOR SEVERAL YEARS WE HAVE HAD MORE TEACHERS LEAVING THE STATE THAT POSITIONS WE COULD FILL. CURRENTLY WE HAVE 5,000 POSITIONS IN ARIZONA. WE HAVE A LONG TIME SUB, EMERGENCY SUBSTITUTE, SOMEONE WITH A G.E.D. OR HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA TEACHING ALGEBRA. PART OF THAT IS BECAUSE THE PAY IS SO ATROCIOUS, WE CAN'T GET IT BACK. WE WANT TO LET THE GOVERNOR KNOW, HE HAS TO DO SOMETHING THIS YEAR.


TED SIMONS: THEY WILL TELL YOU. THE SUPPORTERS OF THE GOVERNOR AND MANY REPUBLICANS SAY THEY ACKNOWLEDGE THERE IS A PROBLEM, TEACHERS NEED TO BE PAID BETTER. HERE'S MY IDEA. WHY ISN'T THAT IDEA GOOD ENOUGH?

JOE THOMAS:WELL, THERE IS A SHELL GAME PLAYED EVERY YEAR WHERE THEY MOVE MONEY AROUND. SOME OF THE MONEY GOES TO TAX CUTS. SINCE PUBLIC EDUCATION IS HALF OF THE BUDGET, A HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS TAX CUT NOT THAT COMMON TO BE PASSED IN ARIZONA IS $50 MILLION THAT WON'T BE THERE FOR ARIZONA NEXT YEAR. EVERY YEAR WE SEE TAX CUTS AND THEY SAY, THERE'S NO MONEY FOR NEW CLASS SIZES, NO MONEY MORE NEW TEACHERS. THAT HAS TO COME TO AN END. THEY HAVE SEEN IT IN OKLAHOMA. IF YOU TAKE A COURAGEOUS STAND FOR THE STUDENTS, IT'S SOMETHING THE GOVERNOR AND LEGISLATORS CAN'T IGNORE. THAT'S WHAT THEY FEEL OVER THE SEVERAL YEAR, IS IGNORED.

TED SIMONS: WHAT IF THE LEGISLATOR REFERRED AN EDUCATION TAX TO THE BUDGET. GOVERNOR IS NOT LIKELY TO VOTE FOR IT. LAWMAKERS MAY NOT CAMPAIGN FOR IT, BUT YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE PEOPLE TO SAY, IT'S A CHANCE FOR EDUCATION SPENDING.

JOE THOMAS: IT WOULD GIVE HOPE TO DETERMINE IF THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT. WHAT IS THE AMOUNT OF MONEY WE NEED IN THE CLASSROOMS. THE PROBLEM IS THAT'S A NOVEMBER ELECTION, AND THE REVENUE STREAM ISN'T INVESTED INTO SCHOOLS UNTIL THE 19-20 SCHOOL YEAR. THAT MEANS EDUCATORS DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO BRIDGE THE GAP. WE SAW THE GOVERNOR COME OUT WITH -- HE CALLED IT A RAISE. IT'S NOT. FUND SWEEPS FROM THE DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED. ART PROGRAMS. EDUCATORS DON'T WANT THAT MONEY COMING IN, PETER ROBBING PAUL BECAUSE PETER AND PAUL ARE BROKE. WE HAVE TO SOLVE THE TEACHING CRISIS NOW.

TED SIMONS: YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT'S POLITICALLY POSSIBLE, POLITICALLY FEASIBLE, REFERRING SOMETHING FROM THE LEGISLATOR TO THE BALLOT MIGHT BE GOOD AS YOU CAN GET.

JOE THOMAS: BEFORE THE RED FOR ED MOVEMENT, I WOULD HAVE AGREED WITH YOU, BUT WE ARE EIGHT WEEKS INTO EDUCATOR, COUNSELORS, PSYCHOLOGISTS, AND INSTRUCTIONAL COACHES, EVERYONE THAT WORKS IN THE CLASSROOM, DONE WAITING FOR POLITICIANS. JUST TODAY IN THE SENATE, THE SENATORS PASSED A FEE CALLING IT A TAX AND OTHER DISCUSSIONS, THAT MAY BE $150 MILLION. THEY ARE DOING THAT. THERE IS MORE MONEY ON THE TABLE BECAUSE OF THE RED FOR ED MOVEMENT. EDUCATORS BELIEVE THEY CAN TAKE AN EIGHT GRADER AND GET THEM READY FOR THE CLASSROOM, THEY'LL GET A RESPONSE. WE ARE BEGINNING TO SEE THAT RESPONSE.

TED SIMONS: DO YOU THINK YOU ARE PUTTING THAT RESPONSE AT RISK WITH A STRIKE? DO YOU THINK PARENTS AND THE COMMUNITY WILL BE OKAY WITH THIS?

JOE THOMAS: I THINK PARENTS UNDERSTAND. I THINK MANY PARENTS UNDERSTAND THAT THIS FIGHT IS FOR THEIR STUDENTS. WE NEED BETTER TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOMS. WE NEED TO GET OUT OF UNDERFUNDED CLASSROOMS INTO CLASSROOMS THEY CAN BE SUCCESSFUL. THEY DON'T GET ONE-ON-ONE TIME WITH THE TEACHER THEY NEED. TEACHERS LEAVE, GO TO SURROUNDING STATES, HAVE BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS AND HAVE A LONG CAREER THERE. WITH THE WALK INS, EVERY WEDNESDAY FOR THE LAST THREE WEEKS, WE HAD 110,000 PEOPLE WALKING IN WITH US CLAIMING THAT THE SCHOOL WAS AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE COMMUNITY. I THINK THE PARENTS ARE WITH US. THEY WANT TO SUPPORT TEACHERS. IF WE GO OUT WITH PURPOSE AND COME BACK WITH MORE RESOURCE, THAT'S A WIN FOR EVERYBODY.

TED SIMONS: THAT'S WITH A 20% PLEDGE, PROMIES -- CALL IT IDEA. A LOT OF FOLKS SEE 20% OVER THE NEXT THREE YEARS SAYING, YOU ARE WALKING OUT FOR WHAT?

JOE THOMAS: THERE IS NO RAISE THE WAY THE PUBLIC UNDERSTANDS IT. THE GOVERNOR PUT TOGETHER A PRESS CONFERENCE AND CHASER BUDGET THAT MAYBE BRINGS IN A 9% RAISE TO EDUCATORS, WHICH IS GREAT BUT NOT ALL EDUCATORS. IT LEAVES OUT THE CROSSING GUARD, NURSE, PSYCHOLOGIST, AND LIBRARIAN. IT GIVES SOME PEOPLE A BIT OF A RAISE AND PROMISE FOR MORE RAISE NEXT YEAR AND THE YEAR AFTER. I DON'T KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE WOULD TRUST THEIR STATE GOVERNMENT IF THEY SAID, THE CHECK'S IN THE MAIL, BUT WE EXPECT EDUCATORS TO BELIEVE IT. WE NEED TO SEE NO MORE GAMES WE NEED TO SEE NEW REVENUE STREAMS. IF WE COULD HAVE DONE IT IN 2008, WHEN WE HAD THOSE REVENUE STREAMS. NOBODY CAN TELL ME WE CAN'T DO IT NOW.

TED SIMONS: TEACHERS HAVE HAD A 5% INCREASE SINCE 2016, SINCE PROP 123 PASSED, WASN'T PERFECT, 70-CENTS ON THE DOLLAR, WASN'T PERFECT, BUT MONEY BACK INTO SCHOOLS. LAWMAKERS WERE LISTENING. LAWMAKERS RESPONDED. HE'S SAYING THERE IS A GOOD FAITH EFFORT TO GET THE BALL ROLLING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. YOU SAY?

JOE THOMAS: WE HAVE BEEN WAITING A LONG TIME FOR A LOT OF THESE THINGS TO HAPPEN. IF YOU WATCH -- THE GREAT THING ABOUT P-B-S, YOU DON'T HAVE PROJECT COMMERCIALS PAINTING THIS ROSY PICTURE OF WHAT OUR SCHOOLS ARE DOING. EDUCATORS GET ANGRY WITH THE PROPAGANDA BECAUSE IT SHOWS ONE SIDE. WE HAVE HIGH ACHIEVING STUDENTS AND HIGH ACHIEVING SCHOOLS. THE PROBLEM IS NOT EVERY SCHOOL HAS RESOURCES TO DO THAT. THE THINGS YOU TALK ABOUT IS IMPORTANT, BUT THE PROBLEM IN ARIZONA, WE HAVE A BAND-AID APPROACH. IT'S ALWAYS LET THIS REVENUE STREAM LAST 10 YEAR, THIS ONE 20. WE NEED PERMANENT FUNDING TO OUR CLASSROOMS.

TED SIMONS: HOW DOES WALKING OUT ON THURSDAY HELP THIS SITUATION?

JOE THOMAS: I THINK IT SHOWS TEACHERS AND EDUCATOR SUPPORT PROFESSIONALS ARE SERIOUS ABOUT THEIR STUDENTS, PLIGHT THEY SEE SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITIES IN, AND THEY ARE WILLING TO RISK THEIR JOB TO COME BACK WITH MORE RESOURCES. WE HAD A VOTE. IT WAS 78%. WE HANDED A SHEET OF PAPER TO EVERYONE THAT WOULD TAKE ONE AND IT SAID, WILL YOU RISK YOUR JOB? 78%. THIS IS A SERIOUS STATEMENT BY THE EDUCATORS ACROSS THE STATE. THEY ARE SERIOUS AND THEY ARE TIRED OF POLITICIANS IGNORING THEM. I THINK WE STEP OUT WITH PURPOSE. THEY UNDERSTAND WHAT THE FIGHT IS. WE GET THE REVENUE STREAMS. IT'S A WIN FOR EVERYBODY.

TED SIMONS: LAST QUESTION BEFORE YOU GO, IS THE A-E-A WORKING ON A BALLOT INITIATIVE TO INCREASE EDUCATION SPENDING.

JOE THOMAS: WE ARE LOOKING AT ALL OF THE OPTIONS WE CAN. IN THIS STATE THE ONLY WAY IS TO GO TO THE VOTERS. THEY ALMOST ALWAYS SUPPORT THEM. WE HAVE OPTIONS TO LOOK AT, BUT IT'S TOO EARLY FOR THAT. WE NEED TO LOOK TO THURSDAY FOR THE SUPPORT FOR PROFESSIONALS, PSYCHOLOGISTS TO LIFT THEIR VOICES TO THE SKY, PRAISE THE STUDENTS, HOPEFULLY SOMEONE IS LISTENING.

TED SIMONS: THE OPTION IS THERE?

JOE THOMAS: THE OPTION IS ALWAYS THERE. THE VOTERS ARE ALWAYS THERE TO SUPPORT OUR SCHOOLS. WE SEE THAT AS AN OPTION. REALLY, IT OUGHT TO BE DONE. IT'S THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE GOVERNOR AND LEGISLATURE.

TED SIMONS: THANKS FOR BEING WITH US. NEXT UP WE SPEAK WITH CONGRESSIONAL 8 CANDIDATE, DEBBIE LESKO.

Joe Thomas: President, Arizona Education Association

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