On April 19, the teachers of Arizona voted to strike April 26 in protest of low pay and poor working conditions. The strike will be the first teachers’ strike in the state’s history and will effect every district. The call to strike was passed with a healthy supermajority of 78 percent of educators in support.
Teachers in Arizona are among the lowest paid in the country, and face difficult working conditions as the conservative state legislature has repeatedly failed to raise salaries or provide more funding for classroom materials and maintenance. Inspired by other self-organized teacher’s strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma, many teachers around the state began discussing with each other what could be done to force the previously ignored issue.
Nine Phoenix area schools were among the first to stage a “sick-out” on March 21, and the movement has quickly grown as teachers, students and parents have launched the #RedForEd hashtag and planned demonstrations at schools across the state. The hashtag is a common sight throughout Phoenix, demonstrating the broad popular appeal of the teachers’ cause even in a city considered to be the most conservative major metropolitan area in the country.
Governor Doug Ducey, after months of insisting teachers would not see a raise above 1 percent, conceded last week that he would approach the legislature with a plan to raise teacher’s salaries by 20 percent over the next three years. Leaders of Arizona Educators United, however, are skeptical of the governor’s plan.
Noah Karvelis, a music teacher, put it succinctly: ““To me right now, [Ducey’s proposal] feels like this was essentially an attempt to stop whatever actions we may have been taking, instead of a legitimate groundwork for future investment in education and to fulfill our demands.”
Educators have also observed that the proposal would do nothing for school support staff, such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers and janitors.
Furthermore they note that had budgets not been slashed during the Great Recession, education spending on the whole would be 37 percent higher than it is now, and say they will not compromise for a plan that still puts them and their students well below what they deserve.
Governor Ducey has so far responded to the strike plan with a series of tweets reaffirming his commitment to his 20 percent plan, and threatened that “if schools shut down, the kids are the one who lose out.” But the teachers, united in a single cause and with broad popular support, plan to carry out the strike unless all their demands are met.