A Basha High School English teacher’s blog post in January about the plight facing Arizona educators has rallied advocates across the state who have shared the teacher’s message on social media.
Mallory Heath, a fifth-year teacher in the Chandler Unified School District, says she decided to write the essay after learning about Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed budget in January which calls for a .4 percent raise for teachers in each of the next five years.
Heath said she feels Ducey misled voters when he campaigned for the passage of Proposition 123 last year. Ducey then repeatedly promised that the initiative, intended to settle a lawsuit against the state legislature, would be “a first step” to restore education funding. Arizona remains near the bottom in national rankings for teacher salary and per-pupil spending.
“I allowed myself to get my hopes up, was the real problem,” Heath said, referring to Ducey. “I allowed myself to trust him just enough to think, maybe he will pull through for us. And then to get that slap in the face, I was like, I love this career so much, but I just don’t know if I can do it anymore.”
In her essay, Heath wrote about graduating from ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teaching College with a 4.13 GPA and over the course of her five years as a teacher, gradually losing trust in the state legislature and the governor.
“My fourth year has given me a taste of teaching bureaucracy I don’t have the patience for, and my fifth year has made me loathe you as you pat yourself on the back for the pennies a day you’ve tossed to teachers, feeling certain you’ve done something more than insult us and our work,” Heath wrote.
Heath said she makes $41,000 this year. After taxes and retirement payments, her take-home pay is closer to $27,000, she said.
“Teachers need a workable wage, or the really great teachers won’t stick around,” she wrote. According to the Arizona Department of Education, an estimated 2,000 teaching positions remain unfilled by qualified teachers.
12 News requested a comment from Ducey about the essay (its title contains a direct salutation to Ducey and the blog is written directly to Ducey.) A spokesperson said he was checking to find out whether Ducey read the essay. Senior Press Secretary Patrick Ptak also provided this statement to 12 News:
"The governor agrees we need higher teacher pay and is passionate about this topic. Our teachers are critically important, and he wants to see them paid more. That’s why he fought so hard for Prop 123 and why he’s working to get his budget proposal passed. This is the beginning, not the end, of efforts to reward our teachers. Part of his agenda is working with our universities to provide a debt-free college education to new teachers. This will have a big impact on helping get quality people in the classroom and allow them to stay there."
Heath's interview with 12 News comes ahead of a lobbying effort scheduled for Wednesday by members of the Arizona Parent Teachers Association at the Arizona State Capitol. Education advocates are asking the governor and lawmakers to find other sources of revenue to address school funding needs, such as freezing the expansion of a private voucher school program and putting on hold scheduled corporate tax cut expansions.
Gov. Ducey recently told 12 News he believes school district leaders could find more money for their teachers from existing funds and Ducey’s proposed budget. Ducey said teachers could get as much as a $10,000 raise from those sources. Education advocates scoffed at the suggestion and a spokesman for the Arizona School Boards Association called Ducey's assessment unrealistic.
Heath said she doesn’t believe there is much more money to go around.
“Our superintendent is absolutely fantastic,” Heath said. “She fights for our teachers, so if she says the money is not there, the money is definitely not there.”
Heath said she plans to work next school year but is uncertain after that.
“Obviously being a teacher is exceptionally rewarding. I love my students no matter what,” she said.