Seeing red: Teacher walkouts shut Arizona, Colorado schools

Seeing red: Teacher walkouts shut Arizona, Colorado schools
The Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — A sea of teachers clad in red shirts and holding “Money for Schools” signs reached the Arizona Capitol to press lawmakers for action Thursday, a key event in an unprecedented walkout that closed most of the state’s public schools and built on an educator uprising that bubbled up in other parts of the U.S.

Tens of thousands of teachers and their supporters headed through downtown Phoenix to a rally to demand increased school funding on top of big pay hikes offered by the Republican governor. Widespread walkouts also were underway in Colorado, where teachers protested at their own Capitol and some schools were shut down.

Educators in both states want more classroom resources and have received offers either for increased school funding or pay, but they say the money isn’t guaranteed and the efforts aren’t enough. The walkouts are the climax of an uprising that spread from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

A lack of resolution led Arizona educators to launch the first-ever statewide strike to force their demands. It comes as about half of all Colorado students will see their schools shuttered over two days as teachers take up the Arizona movement’s #RedforEd mantle.

“I feel like funding for the schools should be at the top of the list,” said Brandon Hartley, a charter school teacher from the Phoenix suburb of Peoria who brought his 7-year-old son to the rally at the Arizona Capitol.

Other parents who brought their children to the Phoenix protest expressed their support despite school closures that led makeshift day care operations to open at schools and recreation centers to help working parents. Food banks and some schools also were providing free meals that many students rely on.

Mariaelena Sandoval brought her 11-year-old daughter and held a sign that said, “I’m a Republican, I’m voting and I’m #RedforEd.” She said she had a “wake-up call” for school funding when she learned about a teacher paying out of pocket for a field trip.

“I’m walking for her,” Sandoval said of her daughter.

The crowd, many of whom carried water jugs and umbrellas, walked 2 miles in heat that reached the mid-90s as employees at courthouses and office buildings left work to watch. The state Department of Public Safety estimated the crowd size at 40,000.

In much cooler Colorado, several thousand educators rallied around the Capitol, with many using personal time to attend two days of protests expected to draw as many as 10,000 demonstrators. They chanted, “Education is our right” and “We’re not gonna take it anymore,” drawing honks from passing cars.

Lawmakers there have agreed to give schools their largest budget increase since the Great Recession. But teachers say Colorado has a long way to go to recover lost ground because of strict tax and spending limits.

Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has proposed 20 percent raises by 2020 and said he has no plans to meet with striking teachers and or address their other demands, including about $1 billion to return school funding to pre-Great Recession levels and increased pay for support staff.

Teachers and some lawmakers say the proposal relies on rosy revenue projections. A key legislative leader says a budget deal that could provide money for teachers is likely still at least several days away as lawmakers work out issues over how Ducey’s plan will be structured.

Joe Thomas of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teacher membership group, has said the walkout has no end date, and educators may have to consider a ballot initiative seeking education funding if lawmakers do not come up with their own plan.

School districts across Arizona have closed, including the state’s largest three. Teachers also protested on both sides of the state. South in Tucson, they waved signs on sidewalks and corners at a downtown intersection, while up north, protesters marched to Flagstaff City Hall and others gathered on the Navajo reservation.

More than 840,000 Arizona students were expected to be out of school Thursday, according to an analysis from The Arizona Republic that tallied up at least 100 school districts and charter schools that are closing.

Some went to day camps and other care options at community organizations.

Addie Martinez dropped off her 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter at a Phoenix Salvation Army that is offering child care before she rushed to her medical assistant job. The facility has room for up to 100 kids and provides breakfast, lunch and snacks for $25 per child.

Martinez said she was prepared to take her children back Friday and next week to the center, which offers activities that include arts and crafts and dodgeball. Despite the inconvenience, she said she supported the teachers because “they are educating our future.”

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Associated Press writers Colleen Slevin in Denver, Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Terry Tang, Bob Christie and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that 10,000 Colorado demonstrators are expected over two days.

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