Arizona educators have voted to walk off the job in a first-ever statewide strike to demand more school funding and a halt to tax cuts.
Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said in a press conference Thursday that 78 percent of the more than 57,000 educators who voted supported a walkout, calling the vote “historic.”
“Arizona educators have delivered a strong message tonight, and overwhelmingly support walking out of their schools for their students and their communities and their colleagues,” Thomas said.
Teachers plan to walk out Thursday, with three days of walk-ins leading up to the event, said Noah Karvelis, a teacher and leader with the grassroots group Arizona Educators United. The walk-out announcement comes after weeks of walk-ins—as teachers across the state mobilized behind the #RedforEd movement—and follows a promise by the state’s Republican governor to raise educator pay 20 percent by 2020.
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Educators say years of underfunding have decimated schools. Their demands include about $1 billion to restore education funding to 2008 levels, competitive pay for school support staff, and no new tax cuts until student spending reaches the national average, as the Arizona Republic reported.
Arizona is ranked among the nation’s worst states in per-student spending. A 2017 report by the state auditor found teachers’ pay shrank as class sizes grew. The state receives a larger share of federal education dollars than the national average, but spends less of it in the classroom, the report found.
“I am committed to getting teachers this raise and am working to get this passed at the Legislature,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey commented on Twitter following the announcement. “We need teachers teaching, and kids learning.”
The Arizona vote follows a successful nine-day strike in West Virginia and builds on a groundswell of teacher-led action in GOP-held states.
But Arizona teachers in the “right-to-work” state face risks by walking out. It could be considered illegal under a decision by the state attorney general, and teachers could lose their teaching credentials, as the Associated Press reported.
Even so, Karvalis, an organizer, struck a defiant note Thursday night. “We can no longer allow the status quo in this state to go unchanged,” he said.
“We have crumbling school infrastructure here right now. We have kids sitting in broken desks, studying out of 25-year-old textbooks in a room with a leaky ceiling, and that’s unacceptable,” he said. “We’re truly in a state of crisis here in Arizona.”