While teachers in Arizona and Colorado plan to demonstrate later this week to demand higher salaries and greater government investment in the public education system, GOP state lawmakers are aiming to punish protesters, even as new polling shows the majority of Americans support paying teachers more.
Several schools in Arizona and Colorado have preemptively canceled classes on Thursday, in anticipation of public school teachers across both states launching walkouts and demonstrations similar to those that have swept through Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia in recent weeks.
Teachers in Arizona plan to walk out as part of the #RedforEd movement. The scheduled walkout comes after they issued a list of demands—including pay increases for all school employees, plus annual raises for teachers; restoring education funding to 2008 levels; and no new tax cuts—to state lawmakers late last month, and promised to protest if the demands were not met.
In Colorado, meanwhile, teachers intend to descend on the state Capitol—as they did last week—to call for higher pay and more school funding, and oppose legislation that would slash retirement benefits. Two GOP state senators have responded by introducing a bill that attempts to bar teachers from striking, and threatens to fire, fine, or even jail those who do.
The legislation specifically seeks to prohibit public school teachers and teachers' organizations from directly or indirectly being involved in a strike and would bar districts from paying an educator for any day they participate in a demonstration.
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Under the bill, school districts would be able to seek an injunction to stop a strike in court. Any educator who doesn't comply would be in contempt and therefore face fines or up to six months in jail, or both.
Furthermore, the measure would allow a school district to be able to immediately fire a teacher—without a hearing—should they violate a court order prohibiting a strike. If a teacher organization is found in contempt, any collective bargaining agreement they worked on would be rendered null and they would be barred from collecting dues.
As the Post points out, "The measure's chances of becoming law are miniscule—with the Democratic-controlled House unlikely to support it and some GOP lawmakers weary themselves—though it has injected another level of debate and controversy into the already simmering issue."
"I was shocked by the harshness of the language that is in this bill. I think it's very dangerous for teachers across the country," Suzanne Etheredge, Pueblo Education Association president, told a local NBC affiliate. "They would no longer be able to assert their right to strike, their right to speak out if the conditions warrant it."
"I think that it would mean that you would see teachers less able to advocate for their students," Etheredge added—though she noted that "right now, it sounds like people are ready to still proceed [with the planned protests] regardless of this bill."
The legislation comes as a poll published Monday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that a large majority of Americans—78 percent—believe teachers are paid "too little" and a full 50 percent would support raising their taxes to increase teachers' pay and school funding.