The rising tide of teacher activism continues today, as thousands of educators in both Arizona and Colorado walk out of their classrooms and head to their respective state capitol. Unfortunately, they could be playing into the hands of those who want to bust teacher unions and divert billions of dollars to private schools.
In Arizona, 78 percent of the 57,000 school employees who cast ballots across the state voted to walk out. Around 30,000 to 50,000 teachers and their supporters are expected to march through Phoenix to rally at the Arizona state Capitol to demand a 20 percent raise for teachers, about $1 billion to return school funding to pre-Great Recession levels and increased pay for support staff, among other things. In Colorado, more than 10,000 teachers are expected to demonstrate in Denver as part of a burgeoning teacher uprising. About half of the student population will have shuttered schools as a result.
The teacher walkouts are the climax of an uprising that began weeks ago with the grass-roots #RedforEd movement that spread from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
But teachers say that the state has a long way to go to make up for ground lost during the recession and strict tax and spending limits.
Arizona teachers, on average, make $48,304, according to 2016-17 salary data from the National Education Association. In 2016-17, the national average teacher salary was $59,660. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has said he’ll urge the state’s legislature to pass a combined 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020, but educators aren’t buying it.
About 100 school districts and charter schools in the state are scheduled to close on Thursday—meaning a combined enrollment of about 840,000 students will be affected, according to the Arizona Republic. Grassroots organizers with Arizona Educators United, a teacher-led Facebook group, have said that an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 educators will rally at the state capitol Thursday.
Union spokesmen said that tomorrow’s march to the Capitol is necessary after attempts at outreach have been ignored. There’s no end date for the walkout and he said educators might have to consider a ballot initiative for education funding if lawmakers do not come up with a plan on their own. The statewide teacher walkouts in West Virginia and Oklahoma both lasted for nine days. Thomas said he thinks teachers in Arizona would be willing to stay out that long, too, if needed.
“A lot of that depends on the action of the legislature,” he said. “You cannot have 20,000 people at the capitol and have everyone act like they’re not there.”
One Republican state lawmaker has proposed a three-year, 1-cent education sales tax increase, which would provide the state’s public district and charter schools with $880 million a year more in discretionary funding, according to the Arizona Republic. It remains to be seen if that proposal will generate enough support in the legislature to pass.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has proposed a 20 percent raise for teachers by 2020, but organizers of the so-called #RedforEd movement say his plan relies on rosy revenue projections and doesn’t address the other issues. He’s running a statewide advertising campaign to position himself as a savior–not part of the statewide education crisis. As such, he’s positioning the teachers as the villains and demons. In Fact, Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper is considering legislation that will punish, if not fire, teachers who exercise their right to free speech and assembly. Let’s hope that the teachers aren’t shot and killed like the coal miners who went on strike in Colorado more than 100 years ago.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s house majority whip, Kelly Towsend, announced on social media that she’s consulting with lawyers over a potential class-action lawsuit “for those who are impacted by the extended school year or other harm that comes to them by the teacher walkout.” She told the Arizona Republic that she’s worried the walkout will delay her son’s high school graduation, and her family members have already bought plane tickets for the event. Her comments were met with derision and anger from teachers and other citizens.
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