PHOENIX (AP) — From gathering gift cards, prepping boxed lunches and opening church doors for day camps, communities across Arizona are getting ready for a historic teacher walkout that could keep hundreds of thousands of students out of school indefinitely.
Working parents had a week to figure out where to send their children starting Thursday after teachers voted overwhelmingly to hold an unprecedented statewide strike in their push to increase funding for public education.
While thousands of educators descend on the Arizona Capitol this week in protest, students will be cared for by friends, family or community organizations.
“Everybody is banding together and helping each other,” said Stephanie Barton, an exercise physiologist and mom of two in Phoenix.
She will be sending her kids to a church for free child care while she and her husband are at work.
The walkout is the climax of a teacher uprising that began weeks ago with the grass-roots #RedforEd movement. It grew from red shirts and protests to costly demands: a 20 percent raise for teachers, about $1 billion to return school funding to pre-Great Recession levels and increased pay for support staff, among other things.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey offered teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020. The proposal got support from business groups and some education lobbying groups, teachers say it didn’t address their other demands.
The first-ever statewide strike got support from 78 percent of teachers who cast ballots though it could put them at risk in this right-to-work state without many union protections.
A 1971 Arizona attorney general opinion says a statewide strike would be illegal under common law and participants could lose their teaching credentials. But no school district has said they would fire educators who strike or revoke teaching certificates.
While some districts have said they will try to stay open if they have enough staff, the walkout plans have left Barton and other parents scrambling for child care once they heard that their districts would close. Still, she said she supports the teacher walkout.
“Teachers deserve a raise, but also to get funding for the schools to meet their basic needs,” Barton said.
Associated Press writers Jacques Billeaud and Annika Wolters contributed to this report.