Arizona teachers rally again ahead of salary increase vote

Arizona teachers rally again ahead of salary increase vote
The Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona educators gathered Wednesday in their red T-shirts at the state Capitol for a fifth and final day of a statewide walkout as the Republican-controlled Legislature was expected to pass a budget that still does not meet their demands.

Organizers of the so-called #RedforEd movement said they planned to return to their classrooms on Thursday if the budget is approved. The funding plan includes a proposal to increase teacher salaries that was spearheaded by the Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and opposed by #RedforEd.

After lawmakers began taking procedural steps to pass a budget over the past several days, educators had to change their tactics, said Arizona Education Association president Joe Thomas.

“The writing is on the wall, they’re going to ignore the students and teachers and plight of the schools, and they’re going to put through the budget they want,” he said.

Now, the movement will pivot to longer-term efforts, like a ballot initiative to create an increased funding stream and electing lawmakers who support public education funding. Thomas said he’s confident that educators and their supporters will remain mobilized.

“We have so many people now that are paying attention to what’s going on, they will never turn away from this fight now,” he said. “They understand that there are people down here who do not care as much about students as they care.”

The Republican-backed $10.4 billion budget doesn’t come near the $1 billion in new funding that the #RedforEd campaign demanded in order to see public education funding restored to pre-Great Recession levels. But it does boost education funding by more than $300 million, said Noah Karvelis, a music teacher and organizer with Arizona Educators United — and much of that money wasn’t involved in the spending plan until the movement started.

“A month ago, this governor was ignoring our voices,” he said.

Karvelis helped create Arizona Educators United with other teachers after a strike in West Virginia yielded a 5 percent pay raise.

Educators in Arizona voted in support of a statewide walkout after Ducey proposed his plan to gives teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020, a plan which includes a 9 percent raise in the coming year. They said it relied on fuzzy math, ignored the salaries of support staff and failed to address much-need classroom funding needs.

Ducey’s plan has support from a litany of education groups including the Arizona School Administrators Association, the Arizona School Boards Association, and the Arizona Charter Schools Association, as well as other business and education groups.

“This budget supports Arizona’s top priorities by improving the public education system and rewarding our teachers,” Ducey tweeted out on Tuesday in support of his plan.

The walkout began on Thursday, April 26 and closed a majority of school districts. Some smaller districts began to open their doors on Monday, while others announced they’d be closed for as long as the walkout continued.

While hundreds of thousands of students were left without a class to attend, churches, day camps and community organizations opened their doors to provide child care for working parents — some for free. Teachers also organized food drives for students who rely on free and reduced lunch.

Rebecca Garelli, another Arizona Educators United Organizer, said she was proud of “the powerful movement we have created.”