There were 50,000-person demonstrations at the Capitol, the chants and walk-ins outside schools, and of course the seven-day teacher walkout.
Still, a few days after the end of the session, some of the movement’s effects were hard to see, and others may only come to fruition in coming months and years. Here’s a rundown:
It may be hard to imagine by the way they stormed the state Capitol, but many of the teachers involved had little idea of how the legislative process works. Now they do.
Katie Sabel, an eighth-grade language-arts teacher at Safford Middle School in the Tucson Unified district, spent from Wednesday night to 5 a.m. Thursday in the state Senate gallery last week. Then she went to the House gallery . She’s a Republican, she told me, and she didn’t like what she saw from her fellow Republicans.
When Democrats offered amendments that she favored, she noticed, the Republicans didn’t even listen. They were disengaged, knowing that the deal had been struck and they simply needed to vote down the amendments to get on with approval of the budget deal.
This is the way it always works, but Sabel didn’t know it, and neither did many of the teachers who showed up at the Capitol or watched on the internet.
“It frustrated me to see the whole process,” she said. “To me it was disheartening that the people who were supposed to be representing me wouldn’t come to the table.”
Tia Begay, a fourth-grade teacher at Los Ninos Elementary School in the Sunnyside district, said she was not politically involved before and didn’t realize the Legislature only meets part of the year.
“I followed the process of how the budget is changed over time. I followed the debates,” she said. “You kind of see this story or movie play out with different characters.”
“I’m interested in watching the whole process now. Who runs in the primary, who’s elected and how do they act in office,” she said.
The Ducey deal
It’s hard to remember this now, but at the beginning of the legislative session, the proposal Gov. Doug Ducey had on the table was for funding 1 percent teacher raises.
All that suddenly changed April 12, when Ducey proposed his so-called 20 by 2020, plan. It is probably not a coincidence that the day before, more than 100,000 Arizona educators participated in coordinated “walk-ins,” demonstrations that took place as teachers went to work for the day.
“This movement put a quarter of a billion of new money into the budget,” Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas told me Tuesday.
Of course, Ducey’s plan was just a proposal in mid-April, and in fact there were other Republican proposals. Ducey’s was not unanimously praised by GOP legislators, some of whom thought it went too far.
The movement had its own proposal, a list of five demands, and I questioned the decision to walk out when it was evident those demands would never be met. But it’s clear in retrospect that the hard line teachers took ensured that there was no erosion of the Ducey proposal.
Rep. Todd Clodfelter, a Tucson Republican in his second legislative session, told me the atmosphere was different with the red-clad teachers there all night.
“It was a little more pressure, feeling like you were always under scrutiny,” he said. “We were really under the microscope for everything we were doing.”
Preventing tax cuts
A theme of the teachers’ protests was that they wanted to stop the annual reduction in state money available for education that comes with tax exemptions, tax cuts and voucher programs.
A tax cut for military retirees that passed will have a small fiscal impact. A tax exemption on the sale of coal, intended to facilitate the sale of the Navajo Generating Station, also passed.
But other priorities of important legislators did not. A bill spearheaded by Speaker J.D. Mesnard that would have reduced taxes on capital gains died. So did a bill that would have eliminated sales taxes on some digital goods. And an expansion of the tax credit for donations to school tuition organizations, promoted by Senate President Steve Yarbrough, also failed.
“The Arizona Legislature has cut taxes or increased tax credits every year since 1990,” said David Lujan, director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress. “They continued that this year, but I think the RedForEd movement stalled three major tax-cut bills.”
“When you stop a Yarbrough STO (school tuition organization) bill and one of the speaker of the House’s bills, that’s saying a lot.”
The movement also probably played a role in keeping an upcoming referendum on the ballot. The referendum will be on last year’s expansion of private-school vouchers, something the teachers movement thinks it can bury at the ballot box.
While the movement made a lot of gains, a significant segment of the population was angry with the decision to walk out and even formed its own small counter-movement, Purple for Parents.
“We heard from a lot of parents and quite a few teachers as well, voicing their displeasure with how that played out,” said Victor Riches, president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute. “I think the RedForEd leaders overplayed their hand. The walkout, as they like to call it, they extended it out four or five days longer than they should have. From the calls we were getting here, the parent support was rapidly eroding.”
Some parents will likely consider putting their kids in a school where teachers did not walk out, or move them from districts that seemed content to close rather than demand that teachers get back to work.
“These movements, whether they come from the right or left, are usually flash-in-the-pan movements, Riches said. “The question for RedForEd is, is there a future for the movement? I think the answer is no.”
My gut tells me the answer is yes.