Teacher Strike Momentum Continues: Arizona and Colorado Educators Walking Out
The next wave of teacher activism begins on Thursday, as tens of thousands of educators in both Arizona and Colorado walk out of their classrooms and head to the state capitols.
In Arizona, 78 percent of the 57,000 school employees who cast ballots across the state voted to go on strike. They are asking for $1 billion in school funding, which would include a 20 percent pay raise for teachers.
"I know that it sounds like it's almost incredulous that anyone would ask for that much of a raise, but we're just trying to get competitive salaries," said Joe Thomas, the president of the Arizona Education Association, in an interview. "A 20 percent raise still has us beneath the national average."
Arizona teachers, on average, make $48,304, according to 2016-17 salary data from the National Education Association. In 2016-17, the national average teacher salary was $59,660. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has said he'll urge the state's legislature to pass a combined 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020, but educators aren't confident in his plan.
About 100 school districts and charter schools in the state are scheduled to close on Thursday—meaning a combined enrollment of about 840,000 students will be affected, according to the Arizona Republic. Grassroots organizers with Arizona Educators United, a teacher-led Facebook group, have said that an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 educators will rally at the state capitol Thursday.
The statewide teacher walkouts in West Virginia and Oklahoma both lasted for nine days. Thomas said he thinks teachers in Arizona would be willing to stay out that long, too, if needed.
"A lot of that depends on the action of the legislature," he said. "You cannot have 20,000 people at the capitol and have everyone act like they're not there."
One Republican state lawmaker has proposed a three-year, 1-cent education sales tax increase, which would provide the state's public district and charter schools with $880 million a year more in discretionary funding, according to the Arizona Republic. It remains to be seen if that proposal will generate enough support in the legislature to pass.
Meanwhile, the state house majority whip, Kelly Towsend, announced on social media that she's consulting with lawyers over a potential class-action lawsuit "for those who are impacted by the extended school year or other harm that comes to them by the teacher walkout." She told the Arizona Republic that she's worried the walkout will delay her son's high school graduation, and her family members have already bought plane tickets for the event. Her comments were met with derision and anger from teachers and other citizens.
See also: Teacher Strikes: 4 Common Questions
In Colorado, teachers aren't yet preparing for a statewide walkout on the same scale as Arizona—but some school districts across the state will be closed on Thursday and Friday as teachers protest at the capitol.
Teachers are asking for better pay and more school funding there as well. Colorado teachers made an average of $51,808 in 2016-17, according to NEA data. The state teachers' union has said the state has underfunded schools by about $828 million this school year.
Over a dozen school districts—affecting over half of the students in the state—will be closed during one of the two days or will release students early. The Denver school district, the largest in the state, is canceling classes on Friday, but still requiring teachers to take personal or unpaid leave, according to the Denver Post.
State lawmakers in Colorado have introduced a bill with harsh consequences for teachers who go on strike, but it has a long way to go before passing.
Image: Highland Arts Elementary School kindergarten teacher Melissa Perez participates in a final walk-in on April 25 in Mesa, Ariz. —Matt York/AP