“Reds Under the Beds” and schoolteachers in the streets

The headline in The New York Times (April 26, 2018) read, “Teachers in Arizona and Colorado Walk Out Over Education Funding.” The story opened with news of a walkout that caused hundred of public schools in Arizona to shut down and “turned the streets of Downtown Phoenix into seas of crimson….”
Teachers, students and sympathizers wearing red T-shirts and chanting “Red for ED” marched to the State Capitol.
Red for Ed! For those of us old enough to remember Joseph McCarthy and catchy Cold War slogans like “Better dead than red,” such a chant issuing from street demonstrations in Denver and Phoenix seems farfetched.
I lived in Phoenix. My first job was in Phoenix. Teaching.
Oh sure, antiwar and civil rights demonstrations happened on college campuses back in the day, but they DO NOT happen in Arizona in this day and age. Or Colorado.
Do they?
They do. An estimated 2,000 teachers, students and parents descended on the steps of the gold-domed Capitol in Denver that same day. “Reds” in Phoenix and a special-education teacher from suburban Denver described as “once a staunch Republican who attended Tea Party rallies.” What gets into people?
Apparently, teachers think what they do is important. The protesters waved signs declaring that “Teachers Make America Great!” They probably want us to believe that good schools make for good kids who become good citizens.
Taxpayers—especially if they are parents with school-age kids—tend to agree but sometimes, well, they don’t get the part about paying for what you get. Or why teachers expect to be paid a living wage.
A Denver area parent of three school kids ranging in age from a preschooler to a high school sophomore who did not bother to vote in 2013, when the $1 billion education bill was on the ballot, says it will cost $310 a month for her son to attend a full-day kindergarten next year, which is why she joined the protesters.
As she stood on the steps of the Capitol on Thursday, she said she now saw school funding as a top priority. “I don’t have specific political beliefs, but I do know teachers need more,” she said.
People without “specific political beliefs“ are destined to be outflanked by people who do have such beliefs. Often, those beliefs are driven by self-interest.
When the scales fell from the eyes of the woman who now sees school funding as a top priority, what changed for her? Was it possibly the fact that they will have to pay over 300 bucks a month for the wee one to go to full-day kindergarten?
One standard definition of politics is “the art of who gets what, when and how”—or who pays what, when and how. No reason to get involved unless it hits ME in the pocketbook, right?
Wrong. The old saw “You get what you pay for” applies to everything, including public schools and the special people who not only teach our children The Three R’s but also inspire and instill a love of learning that can last a lifetime.
We believe it’s true of other professions—doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, software managers, developers, architects, integrated circuit designer-engineers, airline pilots and top administrators in both the public and private sectors. So why wouldn’t it be true of teachers?
Or turn the question around: Why would many gifted, high-performing students choose to become low-paid teachers when they could be high-paid professionals in a wide range of other fields? If we reversed the pay ratios between doctors and teachers, five will get you 10 the doctors would be the ones marching in red T-shirts.
The Colorado Education Association reckons the state has shortchanged education to the tune of $6.6 billion since 2009. Half of the districts in the state have gone to four-day school weeks.
The head of the state teacher’s union, Kerrie Dallman, blames low teacher pay for helping to create a 3,000 person staffing shortage. According to Dallman, many teachers work two or three jobs and turn to GoFundMe to pay for new textbooks. “We are collectively fed up…. The students in Colorado can’t afford to wait any longer.”
Nobody likes to pay taxes, especially when we pay more and get less. And that’s just the point, isn’t it? It’s not simply a question of how much we pay but what we get for our money—are the taxes we pay a “good value?”
Economists often distinguish between public goods and private goods. Democracies can’t work without an educated citizenry, electorate and labor force. In my books, when it comes to public goods, investing in our kids and our schools—well, that’s as good as goods get.

Tom Magstadt writes and cooks in the log cabin of his dreams. He lives on a mountain in Ouray County and frequents Colorado Boy almost enough to qualify as a regular. Visit Tom’s blog at http://open.salon.com/blog/dakotakid