Arizona educators and their supporters gathered in the hundreds at the state’s capital and in other cities around the state to demand teacher raises and more school funding in the third day of a statewide teacher walkout.
Hundreds of schools have announced they will close, according to the Arizona Republic, and the state legislature is expected to introduce a budget proposal soon to try to satisfy the teachers’ demands.
The walkout has carried the momentum of a national movement of teacher demonstrations, which started with a successful West Virginia teacher strike that began in February and spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado.
On Thursday and Friday, the teachers and their supporters rallied in the thousands in temperatures over 90 degrees at the capitol to demand increased funding. More than 1,000 schools in the state closed for the walkout. According to the Republic, on Thursday more than 50,000 people marched through downtown Phoenix.
When the teachers gathered on Thursday, the state legislature adjourned early for the week without introducing a budget that would, as the teachers hoped, restore school funding to pre-recession levels. The teachers continued their protest on Friday even when the legislature was out; in the meantime, progressive groups filed paperwork to launch a ballot initiative, in an attempt to circumvent lawmakers and go straight to the voters for education funding. If it makes it onto the November ballot, the initiative would propose to raise income taxes on wealthier Arizonans to bolster education funding.
Soon after the paperwork was filed, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican leaders in the legislature announced they had reached a deal to increase pay for teachers without raising taxes. According to the Phoenix Business Journal, the proposal provided a 20 percent pay raise, meeting the teachers’ demands, but it did not satisfy their calls for increased education funding. According to the Republic, some thought a pay raise not permanently funded through tax measures would be unsustainable. In the announcement, Ducey and the lawmakers said they would work on the plan through the weekend and introduce it early this week.
On Thursday, roughly 10,000 teachers in Colorado, using personal leave, also demonstrated at their state capitol to ask for more money for their schools, which are underfunded by $822 million a year, according to ABC News. The demonstrations continued into the next day and schools were set to remain closed on Monday. Colorado is the only state with a legislature dominated by Democrats to experience a state teacher strike.
Colorado lawmakers cannot raise taxes on their own, according to USA Today, and the teachers’ union is as a result backing a ballot initiative, similar to the one proposed in Arizona, to raise taxes on the wealthy and on corporations.
The Colorado teachers were protected by the use of personal leave, but the teachers in Arizona have already been warned by conservative organizations that they are participating in an illegal strike and that parents and students can sue if teachers do not return to class immediately.