Thousands of Arizona teachers gathered outside their schools Wednesday morning wearing red shirts, chanting and carrying protest signs to show solidarity in their demand for higher salaries and better overall school funding from the state.
The Associated Press reports that the teachers gathered before classes started for “walk-ins” that were planned at about 1,000 schools statewide as part of a movement pushing for a 20 percent raise and more than $1 billion in additional education funding.
The protests come a day after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey defended his school funding plan and called talk of a teacher strike a partisan ploy.
“What I’ve heard from teachers is that they don’t want to walk out — they want to solve this problem,” Ducey said. “And I’ll tell you the people that are playing politics, they want to walk out.”
The group Arizona Educators United has mobilized teachers and supporters through its #RedforEd campaign. In addition to a 20 percent pay hike for teachers, they’re seeking increased pay for support professionals, a permanent raise structure, and a freeze on corporate tax cuts until per-pupil spending reaches the national average.
Stephanie Perry, a 36-year-old single mother of two and a special education teacher at Tuscano Elementary School in Phoenix, says she makes $36,000 annually and lives with her parents.
At a high school in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, science teacher Lindsay Walls was among about 50 teachers demonstrating. She says her district pays well, but it has come at the cost of school facilities and support staff pay.
So far, Ducey and the Republican-controlled legislature haven’t budged to the group’s demands. Ducey has stuck by his proposal for a 1 percent increase this year. He pledged that other fund hikes will come down the road.
A lack of legislative action could trigger a massive walkout. On Monday, Arizona Educators United told their 35,000 Facebook members to prepare for a possible walkout this week.
Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arizona elementary teachers earned a median wage of $43,280 in 2017 and high school teachers $46,470, the 3rd and 6th lowest in the nation, respectively. Adjusted for local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers actually rank 49th in earnings and high school teachers 48th.