Arizona's #RedForEd Fiasco Was a Gift to School Choice Advocates

Seeing your kids held hostage in a battle between government factions is a great incentive to look for alternatives.


Arthur Garcia/CrowdSpark/Newscom

In Arizona, the #RedForEd teachers strike has drawn to a close along with the school year itself. Ultimately, public school teachers got their raises, politicians got to posture, and parents and students got a bitter taste of what it's like to be held hostage in a battle between government employees and their paymasters.

For Arizona residents at large, it served as an important lesson about the dangers of leaving themselves at the mercy of government institutions.

Arizona was only the latest state hit this school year by rolling teacher walkouts, after similar strikes occurred in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. Teachers also protested for higher pay in Colorado. But the Grand Canyon State gave the #RedForEd movement its strongest pushback.

That may be because families have more schooling options in Arizona than in most states, because the strike was so simultaneously politicized and pointless, or both. Whatever the reason, Arizonans got annoyed, counter-protested against the strikers, and launched the #PurpleForParents movement to challenge the teacher walkouts.

"Even before the walkouts…Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) had pledged to give teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020," The Washington Post noted as the strike began. And after a week without classes—during which parents scrambled for something to do with their kids while they were at work—that's exactly what the state legislature approved and the governor signed: the proposal lawmakers had already been debating.

This not-so-stunning victory was orchestrated, in part, by Noah Karvelis, a music teacher and the public face of strike masterminds Arizona Educators United, who insists that "teaching is political and silence is complicity." Last year, he wrote an article, "From Marx to Trump: Labor's Role in Revolution," arguing that "Without the empowerment of the working class and of organized labor, any revolution is destined from the outset for failure."

For families, the use of their kids to further Karvelis's cherished revolution was only the start of the expensive toll the teachers strike would take. It continued after the strike to include interrupted preparations for scheduled AP exams and extended school years to make up lost classroom days, playing havoc with graduation and vacation plans. Unsurprisingly, many students and parents were more than a little annoyed.

"By alienating parents, this walk out will empower the opponents of public education and hurt K-12 schools in the long run," warned Linda Valdez, an Arizona Republic columnist who supported the teachers' demands but recognized that the strike was a bad idea.

Other teachers' union partisans lashed out at families who were upset that their lives had been disrupted. "Stop whining," snapped columnist Elva Diaz. "Instead, show teachers you care enough to pressure state government to give them a 20 percent raise and the $1 billion owed to schools." For parents and students who were fed up, she sniffed, "If the backlash against teachers intensifies and prompts parents to look for alternatives, so be it."

But looking for alternatives to dysfunctional government holding pens isn't an empty threat in Arizona, which has a healthy range of education options. Families can choose from charter schools, virtual schools, homeschooling, tax credits for donations to private school scholarship funds, and Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (vouchers) for private school tuition. Roughly 17 percent of the state's public school students attend privately managed charters, which offer a range of education philosophies for different needs and tastes. The Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program was extended to all children in the state in 2017—but it's currently on hold, pending the results of a public vote on the program's fate later this year.

Before its passage, state Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson)—who now wants to be governor—criticized the voucher extension as "the end of public education in Arizona." After a week of being held hostage by public educators, many families must be hoping that he was right.

In a very real way, the #RedForEd strike was a gift to those of us who see not just lost educational opportunity, but also danger, in letting government officials control what children learn. Politicized union officials and lawmakers playing tug-of-war with children as their playthings turned out to be a wake-up-call for Arizona families.

The state's Goldwater Institute chimed in to criticize the strike and the "collateral damage" it inflicted on children. Columnists speculated that charter schools will likely enjoy a surge in enrollment by families fleeing district schools post-walkout. And I wasn't the only homeschooler to point out that my kid's lessons went uninterrupted by the strike—and to pass around information about education options available to families across the state.

As I said at the time, "Don't get mad about the #RedForEd Arizona teacher strike. Get your kids out of the government schools."

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  1. “Stop whining,” snapped columnist Elva Diaz. “Instead, show teachers you care enough to pressure state government to give them a 20 percent raise and the $1 billion owed to schools.”

    I don’t care, but as your boss, that raise comes from me, not the state. If this operation was structured correctly, I’d be able to lock you out and fire you, and at minimum, have a say at the negotiating table. Because you don’t strike against “the government”, you strike against the managers: parents with kids in schools.

    1. “You want good Trabant? Must buy crappy Trabant now so we use money from crappy Trabant to research how make good Trabant. You buy crappy Trabant now, we start make good Trabant any day now.”

      1. Also, Trabant woker need raise now. Then good Trabant, we promise.”

        1. And here I thought Trabant was German for crap with wheels.

    2. Because you don’t strike against “the government”, you strike against the managers: parents with kids in schools.

      In the states where I’ve lived parents of schoolchildren don’t manage anything. The superintendent is hired by the school board, which is elected by the voters who live in the district. Other than by yanking their kid out of school and providing an alternative education at great expense, students’ parents have no more say than any other voter. IOW none at all.

      OTOH it is the taxpayers who will end up “giving” the raise, not the government. Who that is varies by state.

      1. In MD all my taxes go to pay for other people’s kids. About 32-33% off total revenue goes to education by far the biggest expenditure.

    3. Unfortunately, parents with kids in school aren’t the only “managers” – every taxpayer who funds this “education” system should have a say.

  2. What? All I’m hearing is that the government needs out of schools.

  3. “the #RedForEd strike was a gift”
    Thanks, BUCS.

    1. I started it to bring back Ed Kray-Kray. But it really spun out of control.

  4. It must be lonely being a Marxist in Arizona.

    1. I was trying to figure out what the color red is supposed to represent here…

      1. Earth.

    2. Actually it’s pretty lonely here as a libertarian too.

      Goldwater is dead. McCain isn’t (yet).

      1. Yes he is, he just hasn’t quite stopped moving.

  5. Don’t get mad about teachers’ strikes, writes J.D. Tuccille. “Get your kids out of the government schools.”

    Ok, but there are no refunds.

    1. Addendum: Also, vote down any school levies.

    2. Yeah, shakedown gangs aren’t generally known for a generous return policy.

    3. Actually in Arizona we passed a law to create a refund. A 5500 ESA account that could be used in virtually any educational manner you wanted if you did not go to a public school (the public school cost per children is about 8000, so a savings per kid in the state). The average private school is about 6500, so it would make private schools affordable to most families (as you can also use a pure tax credit up to 2200 a year for schools in Az). Unfortunately the teacher’s union blocked this option for Arizonans as it is stayed by a lawsuit claiming it hurts public schools somehow. Liberals judges tend to be idiots, however, so hopefully it is rectified soon.

  6. Before its passage, state Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson)?who now wants to be governor?criticized the voucher extension as “the end of public education in Arizona.”

    So it’s not a public option? Tax-funded health care “vouchers” were called a public option. Tax-funded education vouchers aren’t public? It wouldn’t be “public education” even though it’s funded by taxes?

    1. You expect consistency out of these swine? Well, you ARE a Naif.

  7. The public charter we send our children to is one of four offered in our backwards red state here. It’s an excellent school that only receives 80% of the funding as the traditional public school yet has far better test scores. There’s a waiting list of 2500 to get into the school.

    Vice the school district I moved out of in a snooty blue state that wasn’t nearly as good, because the only two choices there were “take it or leave it”.

  8. Some interesting tidbits from the homeschooler link:

    A good rule of thumb is not to spend more on college than you’ll make your first year in your career

    If you do that, I guess you’ll go to the cheapest school available, which would then severely limit your ability to make all the tuition back the first year. It’s a terrible rule of thumb these days.

    Do you whine and cry and walk out of your contracted job because you didn’t get all of the raises and bonuses you were promised when you got hired? No. Grownups don’t do that.

    Were those raises and bonuses promised in the contract? If so, then you have every right to walk out on the job until the employer upholds his end of the contract. Yes, grownups do that.

    I wonder how those teachers will feel about their sob story circus if it is discovered that a child died because his mom (who would never even think of walking out of a day of work) had to leave him at home instead of taking him to school today, and he burned the house down trying to make popcorn on the stove.

    What if school was in session and your kid decided to mow down 30 of his classmates with a semi-automatic rifle? What IF?

    1. If you do that, I guess you’ll go to the cheapest school available, which would then severely limit your ability to make all the tuition back the first year. It’s a terrible rule of thumb these days.

      You can save a lot of money doing the community college route these days. Get your basics out of the way and then transfer to Big State University for your major. With that said, given how much state schools cost these days, a first-year graduate might have a hard time aligning their first-year salary with how much they spent to get their degree.

      I actually had to go to grad school to find a job afterwards that paid more than my entire grad/undergrad costs, but undergrad back then (mid-90s) was still pretty cheap, relatively speaking. I don’t think I paid more than $1200 a semester and came out with pretty minimal student loan debt. I wouldn’t have had any if I hadn’t spent a good chunk of my income on stupid college student stuff like eating out, booze, movies, CDs, etc.

      1. You can save a lot of money doing the community college route these days.

        It really depends on the quality of the community college near you. Some are awesome. Some are complete shit. And their costs are going up too. It’s still nothing compared to the 4 year schools though.

        1. As far as learning goes, my daughter started a community college which gave her credit for classes taken at the Big State University, which had a branch on the same campus. No extra charge either.

          1. Started at, not a.

      2. Actually, you can self-train and use very inexpensive on-line training options to learn a multitude of computer disciplines including web developer, system administration, networking, IT security, application developer – the list goes on – and break into the workforce.

        College these days is an extremely poor investment in terms of ROI, unless you (or your parents) have a lot more money than you need.

        If you do community college, that might be all you need; I have a friend with only an A.S. who worked for decades with six-figure salary.

        1. I am a HS dropout and am self taught. I hold the number two position in the I.T. hierarchy for a (ahem) school district with 13 campuses and 6000 client machines.
          I have worked in the I.T. field for over 20 years and never had a problem moving up the ladder based on merit.
          Carter speaks truth.

  9. Let’s keep in mind also that Arizona is a right-to-work state. So any school district could have fired any and every teacher at any time during the kabuki.

    1. Arizona also has laws on the books disallowing strikes by public workers under contract. No politician here has the gall to use it though.

      1. The libertarian taxpayers in Arizona should file a suit against the teachers unions to recover the salary for that week when the teachers didn’t work.

  10. Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson)

    Proud to say, he ran unopposed so I wrote in my friend against him.

    1. When it comes to libertarian political gains, the bar for pride sure is low. And i’m qualified to say this, because i got TWO write-in votes for governor of Virginia in 2005.

    2. I too live in the liberal hole that is Tucson. Love how they fixed the city votes to elect all democrats to the council.

  11. This not-so-stunning victory was orchestrated, in part, by Noah Karvelis, a music teacher and the public face of strike masterminds Arizona Educators United, who insists that “teaching is political and silence is complicity.” Last year, he wrote an article, “From Marx to Trump: Labor’s Role in Revolution,” arguing that “Without the empowerment of the working class and of organized labor, any revolution is destined from the outset for failure.”

    Look, it is the job of a public school educator to bring about the revolution and teach about Marxism. What else is there, really? Since teaching is political, it stands to reason that what is being taught is political. Is that what public school is for? Perhaps so, to a Marxist.

    You know, for the kids?

    1. “10. Free education for all children in public schools….”

      From the Communist Manifesto.


      1. Well of course, Communists believe in free everything so why would education (a necessary component of keeping the revolution alive, comrade!) be any exception to that? It literally saves them time and bullets later on when the kids are adults.

    2. Dude looks like an emaciated Colin Hanks.

      1. Don’t compare him to someone as charming as Colin Hanks.

  12. Are public-sector strikes legal in Arizona?


    1. No, the strike was illegal. The school boards could have disciplined the teachers by termination and decertification. For the most part, the districts supported the strike as they end up with more funding. Funding which is only loosely earmarked for teachers. It is hard to tell how many teachers actually supported this vs. those that were intimidated into going along. I know a few that were privately against it but were afraid to speak up.

      1. So the teachers DIDN’T get a 20% raise? If your salary is $50,000, that bumps it to $60,000. Not bad.

        1. It depends on the district. Ironically, or perhaps a bit of poetic justice, the teachers that will receive the largest increases are in poorer, rural districts that for the most part did not strike. The teachers richer, urban districts, that did strike, will end up with smaller increases.

          1. The State of AZ can not designate money exclusively for teacher raises. ( more on that later)
            The problems with AZ schools are not fixable as the State has messed things up to a point of breaking.
            AZ has always had open enrollment. if there is room for you , you can attend wherever you want unless the school in your neighborhood takes federal desegregation money and you are white. Then you are stuck .
            AZ can increase school funding ( which they need to) but the School Board approves where the money will go. Money from the State may not go to capital purchases only M&O ( which includes Teacher Pay) .
            The State of AZ has short changed school districts and actually taken money from them since before the Alternative Fuel Fiasco in the 2000. AZ depleted the Treasury with dollar for dollar tax credits to rich people that bought new cars to such an extent ( $200 million) as to wipe out the rainy day fund and cause drastic cuts to education . That money has yet to be reinstated let alone the additional cuts to education that came with the great recession .
            Add to that the real funding problem with AZ schools is Capital Funding as it comes from Property taxes
            We have smaller districts out here int the West so there are no cruddy schools in good neighborhoods.
            Average tests scores are straight in line with average home prices.

  13. If education wasn’t tied to taxation things would be a LOT different. Here in NH a bill was narrowly defeated that would have diverted at least some tax funds to parents for the education of their children as they saw fit.

  14. The government doesn’t belong in the business of education. We should stop referring to schools as “public” and refer to them for what they really are, “government education.” Charters are a good start, vouchers are better.

    1. By the Government if you mean Federal and State I am with you . The locally elected School Board for the School District is Government though is it not?
      If you want to do vouchers then require these voucher schools to live by the same standards and rules my neighborhood school does.
      Like .you can not turn anyone away, no class size limits , you have to provide transportation, you have to provide special ed .
      I believe charter schools and home schooling all have a place in Education and both are alive and doing well in AZ . But vouchers too often are just a raid on the states treasury by cheapskates . The Schools that would take these Vouchers are Private Schools already filled to capacity . All you would be doing is giving the parents their money back that already have their children enrolled .No one would use them to “escape bad schools”. That ,is a red herring .
      So make those voucher schools play by our rules , and I will agree with you .

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