A wave of protests demanding increased education funding has moved west, as teachers, students, and parents at about 1,000 schools across Arizona staged "walk-ins" on Wednesday and issued a warning that the demonstration could soon match the teachers' strikes that have kept hundreds of schools closed in other states.
Garnering support using the hashtag #RedForEd, teachers across the state are demanding a 20 percent raise, a return to 2008 school funding levels, and an end to tax cuts in Arizona until the state's per-student spending reaches the national average.
Arizona Educators United (AEU), a grassroots coalition of teachers and supporters, says it will stage a walkout if Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and other state lawmakers don't meet their demands. The group, along with the Arizona Education Association, sent a request to Ducey last week "to begin a negotiation process to resolve the #RedForEd demands."
The request went ignored, with Ducey saying Tuesday, "We're meeting with the decision-makers," referring to school district officials.
As a result, teachers are discussing possible dates for a walkout.
"We will be taking escalated action and plan to set a date shortly if we do not see any response from him," Noah Karvelis of AEU told the Arizona Daily Star.
Arizona's teacher salaries are ranked 43rd in the nation, according to the National Education Association. The state cut school funding more than any other state from 2008 to 2015, following the economic meltdown and recession. It currently spends 13.6 percent less per pupil than it did 10 years ago, adjusted for inflation.
Across the country, education cuts in recent years have had "real and damaging consequences" for public schools, affecting the quality of teachers and class sizes, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
In Arizona's case, Michael Leachman of the CBPP told the Arizona Republic, the data "is certainly not suggesting that Arizona is recovering the cuts that have been made since the recession hit."
The teachers' demand of a 20 percent salary increase would cost the state about $680 million—a sum that, according to a report by the Intercept, "could be covered by reversing a series of corporate tax cuts, enacted in the years following the Great Recession, which have dramatically reduced the state's revenue from business."
"In 2007, the state took in $1.16 billion in corporate tax revenues. But by 2016, this number had dropped to $550 million," wrote Zaid Jilani. "The difference—$610 million—is almost enough to fully fund a 20 percent salary increase."
Meanwhile, schools in some Oklahoma cities remained closed on Wednesday as a teachers' strike entered its eighth school day, after Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed two new bills offering $450 million in tax revenue to schools, but refused to grant the full $600 million package that teachers have been demanding.
To further express their disapproval of the state's lawmaking body, at least 40 Oklahoma educators filed paperwork to run for public office on Wednesday, at the state Capitol where they've been rallying since last Monday.
"These strikes are really coming out of a deep desperation, often from people who want to stay in the profession, but they can't," Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute, told BuzzFeed of the momentum building within the ranks of the nation's educators. "They can't feed their families if they stay in teaching...If you don't have good teachers, you can't have a strong education system."