After an overwhelming majority of teachers in Arizona voted on Thursday night to approve a strike over chronically low teacher salaries and harsh austerity measures that have left the state's public schools struggling, Arizona is poised to become the latest Republican-controlled state to see educators standing up for labor and children's rights.
The Arizona Education Association (AEA) said that 78 percent of the 57,000 teachers who voted support a walkout that would take place next week.
"After years of starving our schools, some classes are stuffed with kids, while others sit empty because there isn't a teacher to teach," said Noah Karvelis, an elementary school music instructor who has organized the teachers' movement through the grassroots group Arizona Educators United (AEU). "The #RedforEd movement has provided educators the opportunity to voice what action they want to take in an historic statewide vote."
Karvelis spoke along with AEA President Joe Thomas after the vote:
Arizona teachers have voted to walk out next Thursday in an unprecedented move to demand increased school funding. https://t.co/drd7bsn9iJ
Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said 78% of employees cast "yes" votes. pic.twitter.com/niGzSjpgqv
— ABC News (@ABC) April 20, 2018
The walkout will begin on April 26 and will follow "walk-ins" that have been held across the state in recent weeks outside of school hours, in which teachers have joined with parents, students, and community members to protest funding shortages.
The educators are demanding a 20 percent raise for teachers and certified support staff, noting that the state's average teacher salary is $46,949 according to the Arizona School Boards Association. They also want school funding to return to its pre-2008 level—the state cut its per student spending by 23.3 percent after the recession—and an end to tax cuts until school funding reaches the national average.
Meanwhile, legislative analysts said late last year that a new round of corporate tax cuts would leave the state $100 million short in 2018, unless spending was cut.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey offered a 20 percent pay raise to teachers earlier this month—but teachers' groups refused to back it when it became clear that Ducey had no sustainable plan to fund the raises, and that it would cut services for universities, Medicaid, and those with developmental disabilities.
"We can't take from one pot to give to another pot," Democratic state Rep. Reginald Bolding told AZFamily.com. "Universities, they need funds. Developmentally disabled, they need funds. Hospitals need funds. People on Medicaid need funds. We have to raise revenue."
Beth Simek, president of the Arizona PTA, urged the governor to "find a sustainable, permanent funding source that does not hurt others in the process."
States including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma have all made headlines in recent weeks with schools across the states closing for days at a time as teachers demanded more funding for education.
"As educators, the students are at the center of everything we do. Every student deserves a chance at a quality education, and access to services like nutrition, health, and after school programs," said the AEA on Thursday.
"Education isn't just a job, it's a calling. That's why we're walking out," added Karvelis.