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Arizona teachers are leaving the state and profession in large numbers. Here’s why.

As teachers across the state fight for more education funding, some have hit their limit.

Teachers participate in a "walk-in" at an Arizona school on April 11, 2018. (Credit: Noah Karvelis, Twitter)
Teachers participate in a "walk-in" at an Arizona school on April 11, 2018. (Credit: Noah Karvelis, Twitter)

Lindsey Jacoby lived 45 minutes away from the Phoenix school district where she taught fifth grade in 2011. She had just had her first child and the commute was taking valuable time away from her being able to breastfeed her son. So, she decided to pump on the drive home.

“I would pump on the way in the car, on the freeway … I would hook myself up to my pumping bra,” Jacoby told ThinkProgress. “It’s more of a hassle when you’re teaching.”

Years later, when she had her third child, Jacoby chose to go back to work 10 days after giving birth. She couldn’t afford unpaid maternity leave for much longer.

Lindsey Jacoby taught in Arizona schools for 8 years before she decided to leave. (Credit: Courtesy Lindsey Jacoby)
Lindsey Jacoby taught in Arizona schools for 8 years before she decided to leave. (Credit: Courtesy Lindsey Jacoby)

“It’s definitely a lot of sacrifices as a mother that you have with teaching,” she said.

After teaching in Arizona for eight years, Jacoby has recently decided to move with her family to Washington state, where she expects to receive at least a $20,000 increase in salary.

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Jacoby’s story is not unique. While teachers across Arizona have been rallying and staging “walk-ins” to demand more education funding over the past few days, countless others are making plans to leave. The financial strain is too much to bear, they say.

It’s no surprise, then, that Arizona is currently in the midst of its worst teacher shortage crisis in decades, the result of years-long education funding pitfalls. As The Arizona Republic reported in December, of the 8,600 teacher vacancies, approximately 62 percent are either still vacant or have been filled with unqualified individuals who couldn’t obtain a teaching certificate.

Teachers leave for a multitude of reasons, but low pay and overflowing classrooms are the commonly-cited ones. The state is among the worst in the country when it comes to teacher salaries and currently has one of the highest teacher-student ratio averages. Former Arizona teacher Michelle Day and her husband, also a teacher, experienced both of these problems firsthand.

Michelle Day and her husband John Day wear #RedforEd to support the movement from afar. (Credit: Courtesy Michelle Day)
Michelle Day and her husband John Day wear #RedforEd to support the movement from afar. (Credit: Courtesy Michelle Day)

“I don’t start teaching to make a million dollars, but you would think that two adults that have jobs and higher degrees would be able to go out to eat out once a month and still pay the mortgage,” Day told ThinkProgress.

Day was a teacher in Arizona for almost 10 years. She and her husband both grew up in the state, but they ultimately decided to move to Oregon because they could no longer afford to stay.

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“I’m eighth generation Arizonan. My parents taught out there. His parents taught out there,” she said. “We never intended to leave.”

Day said she couldn’t purchase her own supplies and provide for her family at the same time. “The funding was gone. I still was making less and less money every year.”

“It was just heartbreaking to have these beliefs [about increased education funding] and have no one in the education system and government believe that way,” she added.

Indeed, after downplaying the #RedForEd teachers movement by calling the rallies a “political circus,” Gov. Doug Ducey (R) on Thursday proposed a 20 percent salary increase in two years.

But “that is not going to cut it,” said Derek Harris, a teacher and organizer for the Arizona Educators United, in a video posted to the group’s private Facebook page Thursday evening. Teachers have been calling for $1 billion in more education funding, salary raises, competitive pay for all educational support staff, and a moratorium on new tax cuts.

“We have a whole other slew of people who make our schools operate every day that we need to take care of too,” Harris added.

Given the apparent shortcomings in Ducey’s proposal, it is unlikely that the Arizona teachers movement will slow down anytime soon. And Arizona is not alone. Teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma have also rallied and held strikes in recent months. In early March, nine days of striking paid off for West Virginia teachers, when lawmakers reached a deal to provide a 5 percent pay increase to educators. Kentucky and Oklahoma teachers have yet to see their demands met.

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It’s not a coincidence that strikes and rallies are occurring around the same time and in mostly red states. As ThinkProgress’ Casey Quinlan previously reported, “The chronic underfunding of education, sustained tax cuts, and right-to-work laws have created this environment, bringing the fight for education and labor rights to a boiling point in all of these states.” West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona are all among several states where school funding is still far below what it was before the Great Recession of 2008.

The situation is especially dire in Arizona, which has one of the worst-funded public education systems in the country, ranked at 49th, according to the Center for Student Achievement. Recent state data shows that Arizona’s total per pupil spending is $9,653, compared to the national average of $12,975.

This wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s, when Arizona last overhauled its education funding system, the state met the national average for per pupil spending. Tax cuts since then are a major reason why Arizona hasn’t been able to keep up. According to a March 2018 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona cut personal income tax rates by 10 percent in 2006 and slashed corporate tax rates by 30 percent in 2011. The result was the tightening of the state’s general funds, which are used to support schools. In fact, as the CBPP reports, the drop in Arizona’s general funds is among the five highest in the country.

Rebeca Stroup, who worked as a teacher for eight years in Sahuarita, Arizona said these figures do not surprise her. In fact, they’re part of the reason why she left teaching. As an educator and a mother, the stress became too much to handle.  

Rebeca Stroup and her daughter. (Credit: Courtesy Rebeca Stroup)
Rebeca Stroup and her daughter. (Credit: Courtesy Rebeca Stroup)

“I loved my career. I always wanted to be a teacher,” Stroup told ThinkProgress. “But once I had a kid, just the demands that were on me in school and at home were just unachievable.”

Stroup said that when she had her first child nearly two years ago, the school didn’t offer her paid maternity leave. She ended up taking a month off without pay.

“With post-partum depression, that’s difficult,” she added. “It’s not a job that’s conducive to mothers.”

Shortly afterward, Stroup left teaching but remained in the education field, working as a magnet coordinator for a magnet middle school in Tucson.

“I miss the kids,” she said. “I just needed a less stressful job.”