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Navajo Teachers Change Rally Cry To 'Rez For Ed'

Not all Arizona teachers walked out this week. Many rural schools remained open but still participated in the #RedForEd movement in their own ways. 

On the Navajo Nation several schools are state funded and those teachers want their voices heard too. In Tuba City a group of teachers coined their own term “Rez for Ed.” 

Tuba City High School teacher Carmen Honyouti took personal leave to protest one day last week with two dozen others. Many of the international teachers who come from the Philippines hope to get work visas with the help of the school. They kept the school open. 

Honyouti said the need for better-funded schools is great, if not greater, in rural districts.

“Our funding goes toward transportation,” Honyouti said. “We bus our kids out at least 80 miles. School districts on the rez we have to provide staff housing. The other part because our kids are low socio economic our kids don’t have school supplies.”

Honyouti said she was working at a Bureau of Indian Education-funded school on the Hopi reservation, and she took a $13,000 pay cut to come home to the public school in Tuba City. Public schools on the reservation do receive some Indian Impact Aid funds but they’re mostly state-funded.

“They may have marginally more money but their operating costs are pretty significant too,” said Wes Brownfield, the executive director of the Arizona Rural Schools Association.

Brownfield said many rural teachers chose to participate in #RedForEd in small ways — walk-ins instead of walkouts, letters to lawmakers, taking a half day instead of a full day off. He said they have to be more careful who they antagonize.

“Everybody knows everybody,” Brownfield said. “You get crosswise with someone in your workplace almost inevitably you’re going to find yourself in a checkout line at the local grocery store with that person. You cannot be anonymous.”

But Brownfield said that doesn’t mean the teachers don’t feel undervalued and want a change.

Laurel Morales was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2011 to 2020.