Striking Arizona teachers end walkout
Phoenix – The Arizona governor signed a plan Thursday to give striking teachers a 20 percent pay raise, ending their six-day walkout after a dramatic all-night legislative session and sending more than a million public school students back to the classroom.
Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature awarded teachers a 9 percent raise in the fall and 5 percent in each of the next two years. Those increases are in addition to a 1 percent raise granted last year.
Teachers did not get everything they wanted, but they won substantial gains from reluctant lawmakers.
“The educators have solved the education crisis! They’ve changed the course of Arizona” Noah Karvelis of Arizona Educators United shouted to several thousand cheering teachers. “The change happens with us!”
The Arizona walkout is part of a simmering national rebellion over low teacher pay. The movement started in West Virginia, where a strike resulted in a raise, and spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky and, most recently, Colorado.
Hours after Ducey acted, strike organizers called for an end to the walkout. Most schools stayed closed Thursday, except for a handful that managed to reopen shortly after the pay raises passed. Some districts planned to reopen Friday, with others likely to resume classes next week.
The Senate approved the raises just before dawn as hundreds of red-shirted teachers followed the proceedings from the lobby, many sitting on the cold stone floor.
The night before, the teachers, who are among the lowest paid in the country, held a candlelight vigil in a courtyard outside the original neoclassical Capitol building. They stood together with their right hands over their hearts and sang “America the Beautiful.”
Wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags, they napped on the ground or in folding metal chairs, occasionally using cellphones to monitor an online video stream of the legislative debate in the chambers.
Ducey said the teachers had earned a raise and praised the legislation as “a real win” for both teachers and students. The pay increases will cost about $300 million for the coming year alone.
Some teachers returned to the Capitol on Thursday as lawmakers debated the rest of the state’s $10.4 billion budget plan. Among them was Wes Oswald, a third-grade teacher from Tucson who made the two-hour drive for a sixth day.
Oswald said the budget still does not address serious issues such as the need for higher per-pupil spending, raises for support staff and a smaller-student-to-counselor ratio.
Teachers must still fight for those problems to be addressed, Oswald said, adding that “the worst thing would be for this movement to dissolve.”
Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said educators should now focus on a campaign for a November ballot measure that would seek more education funding from an income tax increase on the wealthiest taxpayers.
“The budget is a significant investment, but it falls far short” of what the movement demanded, Thomas said.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.