Thousands of teachers in Arizona and Colorado walk out to demand more education funding

Thousands of Arizona and Colorado teachers are holding a walkout on Thursday, following weeks of teacher strikes across the country.

Arizona teachers will wear red and head to the Capitol to demand more education funding. Colorado teachers will also attend a rally at their Capitol for more education funding, better pay, and more security for retiring educators.

Here’s what’s currently happening in the two states:

Arizona

Thousands of Arizona teachers will march through Phoenix to the state Capitol building. Teachers will begin their march from Chase Field to the Capitol at 11 a.m. local time, according to the Arizona Educators United Rally Facebook page. At 1:30 p.m., teachers will hold a rally at the Capitol to make their demands to lawmakers.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, didn’t give an estimate on how long the walkout would last, according to AZfamily.com. An Arizona Republic analysis found that more than 840,000 public school students will be affected by the walkout on Thursday.

Thomas told Capitol Media Services, “If they’re courageous, if they have the political capital to come down and speak with us, we all get a win, the students get a win, the educators get to go back to their classrooms and we get to move on and finish out the year strongly. But the ball’s in the governor’s court and it has been over a month.”

Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced a proposal earlier this month to raise teacher pay by 20 percent by 2020. But teachers said the governor hasn’t done enough to address cuts to education funding. The state’s education funding fell by 36.6 percent between 2008 and 2015. Striking teachers said they want a 20 percent raise as well as no new tax cuts until per pupil funding reaches the national average. They also want competitive pay for educational support staff and restoration of education funding to 2008 levels.

Local lawmakers have made disparaging remarks about the strikes. Last week, Ducey told the Phoenix radio station, KFYI-FM, “I don’t know why the leaders would say that they’re going to strike when we are delivering for the teachers on what we believe they deserve.”

Mesa Public Schools Superintendent Michael Cowan sent an email to teachers on Monday telling them that “a walkout could mean a loss of public support,” according to The Arizona Republic. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas told teachers not to walk out. Douglas said, “If parents or citizens file a complaint with the Department, we have an investigations unit. And I’ve assured the Board this morning, we will investigate anything that comes.”

Last week, the Arizona Education Association told members about a 1971 opinion by Arizona Attorney General Gary Nelson, in which he said strikes by public employees are forbidden.

Colorado

The thousands of teachers participating in walkouts in Colorado are using their personal days to do so, leading four school districts to close on Thursday. Educators from Pueblo School District voted to go on strike last week, but cannot take action until after Colorado’s education and labor agency decides by May 4 whether to try to broker a resolution with teachers. The state’s last teacher strike was in 1994.

Teachers marched to the state Capitol building, with stacks of materials to grade, showing legislators the amount of work they often must do outside of school hours.

Colorado currently falls drastically short of funding its schools, by about $822 million annually, according to The Denver Post. Schools have grappled with this shortage in a variety of ways over the years, from holding four-day weeks, cutting teacher and other educational staff jobs, lowering salaries, and increasing various student fees.

But these solutions are not sustainable, teachers argue. And, as the Post reported, the $150 million that the Colorado legislature has set aside is not enough to make up for the lack of funding.

According to a 2018 report by the National Education Association, Colorado ranks 31st in the country when it comes to average teacher salaries, falling about $8,000 short of the national average. Teachers spend an average of about $656 a year in out-of-pocket costs for school supplies.

A petition by the Colorado Education Association, which has garnered more than 1,400 signatures, has two key demands:

  • A commitment to restore and increase education funding, and freeze corporate tax cuts until that funding is restored, or until per-pupil funding reaches the national average. (Currently, Colorado ranks 42nd in the United States with respect to funds spent per student, well below the national average by about $2,500)
  • Fix the bill SB 18-200, which aims to stabilize Colorado’s public pension fund, but which teachers say would worsen the state’s pension crisis and “exacerbate the educator shortage.”

Friday’s walkout is expected to be much larger, with several more school districts expected to close.

This piece will be updated as the walkouts continue.



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Author: Casey Quinlan

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