Tens of thousands of schoolteachers are walking off the job in Arizona on Thursday, in the state's first statewide teachers' strike. Teachers in four Colorado school districts, including two of the state's largest, are also walking out today, a day before a statewide demonstration on Friday.
The majority of Arizona’s public schools will be closed as teacher walkouts continue in a push for more education funding pic.twitter.com/jzY1Dmtqf8
In both states, the teachers are seeking higher pay — the average annual salary for teachers in Arizona is $47,403 and in Colorado, $51,808, versus a national average of $59,660 — and increased funding for schools, after years of cuts and shortfalls. In Colorado, lawmakers are also considering changes to the state's public pension system that would reduce take-home pay for teachers.
In Arizona, where teachers overwhelmingly approved the strike, there is no set end to the walkout. Many of Arizona's school districts, including its largest, will be closed at least Thursday and Friday, and churches and community groups are working to provide inexpensive or free emergency day care for parents. All four Colorado districts closed today are expected to be open Friday, while the state's largest district, in Denver, will be closed Friday. Teachers have already gone on strike in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky this spring. Peter Weber
Oklahoma teachers will likely return to the classroom Friday after the state's largest teachers' union, the Oklahoma Education Association, called off a nine-day-old strike on Thursday, saying the walkout had gone as far as it could. Union president Alicia Priest called the strike "a victory for teachers," even though it fell short of their goals, adding that "we got here by electing the wrong people to office" and "we have the opportunity to make our voices heard at the ballot box." In Arizona, meanwhile, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) worked to avoid a strike starting Friday by offering teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020, starting with a 9 percent hike starting next fall.
Ducey, who had refused to even meet with teachers as recently as Tuesday, calling their actions a "political circus," said Thursday he was "impressed" after listening to teachers and found $274 million to cover the cost of the initial raise without raising taxes, though he did not provide any details. "It's amazing what a threatened teachers strike in an election year can get the Republicans to do," state Rep. Rebecca Rios (D) said. "I'm impressed." On Wednesday, parents, teachers, and students held walk-ins at more than 1,000 Arizona schools.
Some of the organizers of the #RedForEd protests — which seek immediate 20 percent raises for teachers, competitive salaried for classified employees, and restoring $1 billion in Great Recession education cuts — were less impressed. In a video, they said they needed more details on where the funding would come from and how Ducey would push it through the state legislature, and said they plan to push forward with Friday's walkout.