PHOENIX – The latest stop in the national movement seeking higher teacher pay and better education funding is Arizona, where tens of thousands of teachers have voted to walk off the job next week.
They want the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey to improve on the governor’s offer of 20 percent raises by 2020. That plan, the teachers say, fails to address several of their other goals, including a restoration of state funding to 2008 levels and a pledge not to adopt any new tax cuts until per-pupil state funding reaches the national average.
Arizona is one of several Republican-led states where teachers have demanded higher pay this year. The movement started in West Virginia, where a strike resulted in a raise, and spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky and most recently Colorado.
After West Virginia teachers won their raise in early March, Arizona educators joined forces using online platforms and held increasingly frequent demonstrations over the past six weeks.
“None of us went to school, none of us spent money on tuition, on books, none of us spend our time and our energy to not care,” said Nancy Maglio, a middle school teacher in Tucson. “We went into a field where caring is mandatory.”
Ducey, who is up for re-election in November, insisted for weeks that he was doing all he could to boost school spending. Then last week he proposed the 20 percent pay raise. But teachers want funding that goes beyond salaries, and a vote Thursday authorized an April 26 walkout.
The governor has refused to meet with the grassroots group or the state teacher association that supports the efforts. Organizers say setting the walkout date allows districts to prepare for possible closures and gives lawmakers time to act.
“If we maintain the status quo, that is way worse than missing a couple days of school,” said Noah Karvelis, organizer of the grassroots group Arizona Educators United. “We can’t continue to throw away academic futures.”
On Friday, Ducey vetoed 10 pieces of legislation to send a message to the Legislature that he wants lawmakers to send him a state budget that raises teacher pay.
“Our teachers have earned this raise,” Ducey said in his veto letter. “It’s time to get it done.”
Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said he was disappointed that teachers did not give lawmakers a chance to continue negotiating before voting to strike.
“I’m not sure what a strike would accomplish beyond what we’re already trying to the best of our ability to do,” Mesnard said Friday.
Teachers say the walkout is years in the making. They are among the lowest paid in the nation, with similarly low-level per pupil spending. Last year, Ducey offered a 2 percent increase over 5 years that was widely panned as miserly. Lawmakers eventually gave teachers a 1 percent raise, and another 1 percent was planned for the coming year.
Ducey ran for governor in 2014 with a promise to cut taxes every year he’s in office.
Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas, who is partnering with Arizona Educators United to fuel the (hash)RedforEd campaign, said lawmakers could fund the demands if they rolled back corporate tax cuts and sent the money to schools.
“Here’s the game that’s played every year: tax cut, tax cut, tax cut,” he said. “We’re tired of that game.”
Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said Friday that the governor is focused on getting his so-called #20x2020 plan passed. The bulk of funding for the $650 million plan is supposed to come from the benefits of a growing economy. Adding any new taxes or tax hikes, Ducey has said, would jeopardize the state’s growth.
Scarpinato would not say if Ducey would meet with Thomas, Karvelis or other members of Arizona Educators United ahead of the planned walkout.
“What we can control is public policy,” he said.
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