Arizona teacher Christina Carter lives about 5 miles from the California border and believes she could earn about $50,000 more a year doing essentially the same job in the Golden State. And it would only add 10 minutes to her commute.
Carter stays at tiny Ehrenberg Elementary School for personal reasons, namely because her own children have gone there since kindergarten, she told CNN during a lunch break.
But that doesn’t erase the sting she feels knowing she could make at least $90,000 annually if she stood in front of a classroom just across the Colorado River in Blythe, California, that district’s records suggest. In Arizona, with 16 years’ experience and a master’s degree, she earns $38,000 per year, Carter said.
The inequity is among the factors driving teachers across Arizona to strike beginning next Thursday, following protests across the state. It’s part of a recent wave of teacher actions across the United States, including in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Colorado.
Arizona ranks 43rd in the nation in terms of how much it pays its teachers, according to the National Education Association. And though Gov. Doug Ducey has vowed boost their pay 20% by 2020, teachers wouldn’t accept the raise without more money for schools overall.
“There’s no consistency for these kids because these teachers can’t afford to stay,” Carter said. “We’ve lost amazing teachers.”
‘Tempting me every day’
Only 120 students attend Ehrenberg, in kindergarten through 8th grade. Carter teachers six subjects — English, math, science, history, art and physical education — to all 22 7th- and 8th- graders, she said.
“It’s nice because you build relationships with the kids,” she told CNN, “but it’s also exhausting.”
She said the school, where her daughter is in 7th grade and her son is in 5th, has a great environment that just can’t be bought.
“I have thought about going elsewhere, but I love being at the same school as my children because I get to see them learn and grow and be a part of their educational experience,” she said. “To me, that is more important than the money.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s not tempted.
Carter’s son plays baseball in Blythe, and the grandson of a school board member there is on his team, she said.
“He’s tempting me every day,” she said. “‘We can pay you more, we have better amenities, we have better services.'”
For now, Carter is holding out. But if Arizona teacher pay doesn’t rise, that may change when her children finish grade school.
“As soon as they leave 8th grade,” she said, “you bet I’m looking elsewhere.”