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Following West Virginia's Lead, Arizona Teachers Protest Low Pay, Discuss Striking

Arizona teachers are wearing red today to protest the low wages they say are forcing them out of the state and exacerbating the teacher shortage

The "Red for Ed" effort sprang up over the weekend, according to the Associated Press, after Phoenix teacher Noah Karvelis started the Facebook group Arizona Teachers United. The closed group, which had nearly 8,000 members on Tuesday, called on teachers to dress in red clothes today. And that's what thousands of teachers across the state did, according to Vox.

The initiative is a chance to gauge teachers' feelings about a potential statewide strike. Joe Thomas, the president of the Arizona Education Association, came up with the idea.

"It's a great indicator. If two wear red, people probably aren't upset, people probably aren't agitated," Thomas told the Associated Press. "If everybody shows up in red, that may be a good indicator that people are ready to take a larger action."

The average starting teacher salary in Arizona is just $31,874, according to the National Education Association. Low pay is one of the reasons for the state's teacher shortage. According to a survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, 866 teachers have left their jobs as of December 8. There are more than 1,900 unfilled teacher jobs in the state, while 963 classroom positions are held by teachers with emergency credentials. 

Exacerbating the shortage is Arizona's teacher turnover rate, which, at 18.8 percent, is one of the highest in the country, according to a 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute on the nationwide teacher shortage.

Diane Douglas, the state superintendent of public instruction, has pushed for a sales-tax increase to fund an 11 percent teacher salary hike, but that proposal has received opposition from Gov. Doug Ducey. 

Last year's budget included a 1 percent salary increase for teachers, with the same amount promised for the upcoming fiscal year. But educators in the state ranked No. 43 in teacher pay want more. 

Arizona is just one of several states among the bottom rung of teacher salaries that has seen teacher protest and activism. A nine-day teacher strike over low wages in West Virginia ended on Tuesday with a deal that includes a 5-percent salary increase and a promise from the governor to find a solution for skyrocketing healthcare costs. 

And now Oklahoma appears headed for a statewide strike as well. Last night, the Oklahoma Education Association announced that schools would shut down across the state if the state legislature does not pass a $10,000 pay raise for teachers and increased funding for schools by April 23. (That date may change after an outcry from teachers who called for a strike date of April 2.)

Momentum for the Oklahoma strike began building in much the same way it did in Arizona—with teachers connecting and organizing on Facebook groups dedicated to drumming up support for a statewide walkout. About 80 percent of OEA members support a strike, according to an online survey conducted by the union.

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