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Arizona school employees want more education funding, plan statewide walkout

Teachers and other school workers will walk off the job on Thursday in an effort to persuade lawmakers to boost their pay and restore education funding to pre-recession levels.

Educators and other school employees in Arizona have voted overwhelmingly to stage a statewide job walkout to persuade lawmakers to provide more funding for schools.

The Arizona Republic reports that the Arizona Educators United grassroots group and the Arizona Education Association have decided to move forward with a strike on April 26 after compiling results of a poll of educators.

About 78 percent of the 57,000 educators who took part in the poll supported a walkout.

“This is undeniably and clearly a mandate for action,” says Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association.

AEU organizer and teacher Noah Karvelis says teachers and other employees will stage non-disruptive walk-in demonstrations on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and walk out Thursday. This will give schools and parents time to prepare.

“My biggest concern in this moment is we can’t let the status quo continue," Karvelis says. "The biggest disservice we could do to our students right now is not act.”

The teacher-organizers say the crisis in Arizona education funding has left them with no choice but to set a walkout.

The organizers say they are confident school superintendents and school boards will support their effort.

“We are truly in a state of crisis right now.” Karvelis says.

The decision to walk out follows similar actions by teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma. 

The poll results were released one week after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced a proposal to boost Arizona teachers' pay 20 percent by 2020.

Ducey commented on Twitter about the planned walkout: "No one wants to see teachers strike. If schools shut down, our kids are the ones who lose out. We have worked side by side with the education community to develop a sustainable plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020. I am committed to getting teachers this raise and am working to get this passed at the Legislature. We need teachers teaching, and kids learning."

Walkout organizers have criticized Ducey's plan, saying it left out support professionals, lacked funding details and didn't address schools' broader funding needs.

Those seeking more education funding have made five demands of Ducey and the Legislature: 

•20 percent salary increase: According to an analysis by the Arizona School Boards Association, the median teacher pay in 2018 is $46,949. A 20 percent increase would amount to $9,390, for a total of $56,339.
•Restore education funding to 2008 levels: This would require adding about $1 billion more in state funding to education. Arizona spends $924 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars now than it did in 2008.
•Competitive pay for all education support staff. Ducey's proposal does not include raises for these individuals. 
•Permanent salary structure, including annual raises.
•No new tax cuts until per-pupil finding reaches the national average. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Arizona spent $7,489 per pupil in 2015, compared with the national average of $11,392. 

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