Why are teachers walking out?
The protest is in response to a plan put forward by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, which would increase teacher pay 20% by 2020, starting with a 9% increase next year. The average teacher salary in the state would increase from 48,372 to 58,130 within two years.
However, the teachers argue that the governor’s proposed plan neglects other demands, including increased school funding and pay raises for school receptionists and bus drivers.
In addition to a pay raise, teachers have a number of demands, including:
- Restore education funding to 2008 levels
- Competitive pay for all education support staff
- Permanent salary structure, including annual raises
- No new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average
The walkout, the first-ever to be organized on a statewide basis in Arizona, will begin on Thursday, April 26. Two teachers unions—the Arizona Education Association and the Arizona Educators United—put the walkout to a vote on Thursday, and it secured 78% support among the 57,000 votes cast.
In recent weeks, teachers in Arizona have been organizing “walk-ins”—rallies held outside schools in which they voice their demands and then walk in to school together. These walk-ins will continue for the first three days of next week until the official start of the strike on Thursday.
The unprecedented walkout is risky for teachers. Arizona is a right-to-work state “where unions do not collectively bargain with school districts and representation is not mandatory.” A 1971 opinion from the then attorney general argued that a statewide strike would be illegal under common law and participating teachers could risk losing their teaching credentials.
Teachers in Arizona were inspired in part by the protests staged by teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma in recent weeks. Arizona ranks 43rd in terms of teacher pay. Following protests in West Virginia, teachers won a 5% pay raise. Oklahoma’s teachers were less successful. The walkout ended after nine days when it became apparent that the state legislature would not capitulate.
For his part, Ducey criticized the Arizona teachers’ move, arguing that “kids are the ones who lose out” in the case of a strike.