PHOENIX (Reuters) – Arizona teachers vowed to continue their walkout over salaries and school funding on Tuesday as lawmakers considered a proposal advanced by the governor and legislative leaders for ending the latest in a string of statewide protests by U.S. educators.
Arizona’s strike has kept the vast majority of its 1.1 million school children out of classrooms since teachers walked off the job last Thursday. It follows similar walkouts by teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma that marked the first statewide U.S. teacher work stoppages since the 1990s – all in states where Republicans dominate the legislature.
The unprecedented wave of labor activism by teachers has been fueled by demands that states reverse salary and funding constraints imposed during the 2007-2009 recession when tax revenues ran short.
Thousands of red-clad Arizona teachers flocked to the state Capitol in Phoenix for a third day on Monday to press the Republican-controlled legislature for greater education spending as lawmakers opened talks on various state budget proposals.
The strikers have demanded higher pay for support staff and teachers and a promise that Arizona’s legislators will enact no new tax cuts until the state’s per-student funding level is brought up to the national average. Arizona’s teacher salaries rank among the lowest in the country.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, last week announced a deal with legislative leaders to raise teachers’ pay 20 percent by 2020, along with $371 million in new funding over the next five years for improvements in school infrastructure, new school buses and upgrades to technology and curriculum.
Teacher union officials expressed skepticism over Ducey’s plan, however, saying it failed to address all their concerns and was unclear on how spending increases would be funded.
Organizers said in a Facebook video late on Monday that they would be at the capital and in the community on Tuesday and Wednesday pressing their case as the state lawmakers work to approve a budget.
“We need you to keep on red alert,” said kindergarten teacher Kelley Wendland Fisher, an organizer with Arizona Educators United. “We need for you to be the eyes and ears, we need you to be down there making sure that they know that we are watching and listening to everything that’s happening.”
The walkout leader, Noah Karvelis, told Reuters that the group does not yet know if it supports the budget now under consideration because it does not have the details yet.
Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Andrew Heavens