Months after a massive teacher walkout over low school funding, at least 20 Arizona teachers are running for seats in the state Legislature.
"It's so very important right now," Jennifer Samuels, a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, said. "Our elected leaders have failed to fund our schools for a decade or more. We have to stand up for our children and colleagues and classrooms."
Samuels is a candidate for the House of Representatives in LD15.
"I just said, 'Enough.' I want to do something to make a change in our state," Mendy Gomez echoed.
Gomez lives in Vail in southern Arizona and works in the Tucson Unified School District.
She's running for a Senate seat in LD14, which spans four counties.
"I've been doing a lot of parades and festivals," she said, describing her campaign strategy to meet as many voters as possible.
"I think people want to meet you, to know what you stand for, and that your door will be open if you win," Kristina Kelly said. "I think people appreciate that we're taking our summer to knock on doors."
Kelly, who teaches in the Scottsdale Unified School District and is running to represent LD23 in the Senate, stands out from the crowd of teachers on the ballot as possibly the only Republican candidate.
Democrats say they have at least 19 K-12 teachers on the ballot.
"I'm running for the bigger picture. If we can tie up the Senate, or flip it, this will be a game changer for Arizona," said Christine Marsh, a teacher in the Cave Creek Unified School District, who's running for the Senate in LD28.
The Arizona Republican Party did not respond to emails about how many teachers are running as members of the GOP.
Regardless of party affiliation, education funding unites the teachers running for office.
"We need a designated funding source for education," said Eric Kurland, a teacher in the Scottsdale Unified School District, who's running for the House in LD23.
"I work in Scottsdale. The voters always come out to support public schools," he said. "They are willing to tax themselves, to put in overrides and bonds. Republicans and Democrats and Independents care. Unfortunately, the small number of people who represent us at the Capitol don't represent those same beliefs that our constituents do."
The Democrats in the group all support the initiative to tax the wealthy to boost funding for schools.
"For the top 1 percent to pay a bit more? That small amount for them will mean the world for my students," said Samuels, who spent days gathering signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.
"We have to do something, and this is what teachers came up with," Marsh said.
"A lot of times, money is allocated for education, but those funds are swept from that budget item or pot and the funds aren't there [for schools]. With the citizens' initiative, we have a designated funding source," Gomez said.
"I tell people, if you file jointly, your first $500,000 of earnings, nothing will change. Beyond that, you'll pay 3 1/2 more cents per dollar. It's reasonable," Kurland said.
Kelly disagrees with the higher tax proposal.
"I do understand. People are desperate to find another source of funding, but as a Republican, I think just taxing a certain group of earners is divisive, and would hurt small businesses," Kelly said.
The teachers also believe more money is needed to improve safety in their schools.
"We need the funding to bring back trained counselors, social workers, psychologists and resource officers into our schools," Gomez said.
"We have 900 students to one counselor. That's not good enough," Kelly added. "We need counselors to help with mental health."
"It's also about class size. If we reduce class size, that elevates [the] accountability of the students," Samuels said. "The students get to know each other better and feel more in control of the situation."
Kurland also addressed Gov. Doug Ducey's school safety plan, which focused on enhancing background checks, resource officers and counselors. It fizzled during the 2018 legislative session.
"The elephant in the room is the NRA," he said. "They had to make their safety plan pass the NRA. I'm not sure why the NRA is in charge of our students' well-being."
If elected, the teachers plan to take leaves of absence to different degrees.
Marsh says a student teacher she worked with is ready to step in and help with the bulk of her classes during the legislative session, which starts on the second Monday of January. In 2019, that will be Jan. 14.
"We can multitask," Kelly said. "If you want something done, give it to a busy person."
"We have a whole generation of teachers who are about to retire in two to five years," Gomez said. "We're in a crisis now, and have nobody coming up behind them. If things are bad now, what are things going to look like in five years? We have to solve these problems now."
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