Schools Close as Arizona and Colorado Teachers Strike

Politico reports that more than 1,000 public schools are closed in Arizona today as teachers rally at the state Capitol and near public thoroughfares to ask for higher pay and a boost for education funding. Arizona is the most populous state to host a statewide teacher strike this year — and with school closures that are expected to affect three-quarters of the state’s 1.1 million public school students, it could be the biggest one yet, the Arizona Republic estimates.

— Rumblings of a teacher work stoppage in the Grand Canyon State began more than a month ago — just as demonstrations kicked off in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Weeks later, teacher angst in Arizona has remained unquelled. A plan presented by Gov. Doug Ducey — who initially dismissed the possibility of major raises for teachers — proposes to raise teacher salaries by 20 percent before the end of 2020. But leaders with #RedforEd, the umbrella for the movement that includes various unions, have called for immediate teacher pay increases, as well as boosts for support staff and overall school district funding.

— “I don’t know why the leaders would say that they’re going to strike when we are delivering for the teachers on what we believe they deserve,” Ducey said this week during an interview with a local radio station. Ducey defended his plan, saying that it would meet teacher demands without hurting businesses by increasing taxes.

— Ducey’s plan would boost teacher pay by 9 percent next fiscal year, which, coupled with a 1 percent raise enacted in the 2018 fiscal year, and 5 percent raises in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, amount to a 20 percent pay hike. The plan would bring the average teacher salary to $58,130, according to an estimate by Ducey’s office.

— “This is a fight for every single one of the 1.1 million Arizona students in this state that deserve better schools than what the legislature provides,” said Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas during a press conference late Wednesday. “That’s why we’re in this fight. That’s what’s going to happen tomorrowFriday and into next week, until we get the results that we demand for our students.” In a vote announced April 19, 78 percent of the 57,000 AEA educators who voted supported a walkout.

— Businesses, faith-based organizations and others have made arrangements to offer support for families disrupted by the closures, the Arizona Republic reports. As in Oklahoma, standardized testing in Arizona may also be affected by a prolonged work stoppage. As many as 35 percent of schools could have tests outstanding, as the April 27 deadline to administer reading and math tests looms. Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas issued guidance to districts Wednesday addressing assessments and other issues that may be affected by the closures. “It’s an absolute shame that it has come to this,” she said earlier in a statement.

By Mel Leonor