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After 5 Days, Arizona Teacher Strike Set to End if Pay Raise Deal Passes

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Arizona teachers aren't thrilled with the budget deal that legislators are furiously working to pass, but they say it would be enough to send them back into the classroom on Thursday, after five days of striking.

In a press conference on Tuesday, leaders from the Arizona Education Association and the grassroots, teacher-led group Arizona Educators United made clear that they aren't satisfied with the budget deal, which would raise teacher pay 20 percent by 2020 and invest $371 million in schools by 2023, but they don't see a path forward for the strike.

"Our fight is not over, but it is time for us to get back to our students and back into our classrooms," said Rebecca Garelli, an organizer with Arizona Educators United. "If the lawmakers do their jobs and get the budget passed by Thursday, we commit to return to our classrooms then. Our greatest victory is the powerful movement we have created, which we are going to continue to use on behalf of our students." 

In a subsequent Facebook Live on Tuesday, the organizers said they had talked to teachers outside on the capitol grounds and surveyed the comments on the Facebook page, and heard that most teachers were ready to go back to the classroom. 

"Right now, what we need to do is continue to fight," said Noah Karvelis, one of the organizers of the Arizona Educators United. "But the fight at the legislature right now is already decided." 

Teachers went on strike on April 26, calling for $1 billion in education funding, which would include 20 percent pay raises for teachers by this fall. This has been Arizona's first statewide strike, and teachers were met with heavy resistance and threats of legal consequences (striking is illegal in Arizona). 

Although teachers haven't gotten everything they asked for, they did force the legislature to concede some ground. Originally, teachers were promised a 1 percent pay raise by this fall. Now, as part of the 20 percent by 2020 plan, teachers will get a 9 percent raise this coming year.

The governor has said he hopes to sign the budget bills as early as today. It's unclear what will happen with the strike if the legislature isn't able to pass the budget deal by the end of the day, but some schools have already announced they will reopen on Thursday. 

"It's not that we won the war, but ... we won the first battle," Karvelis said in the Facebook Live.

On Tuesday afternoon, an Education Week reporter spoke to teachers who were ready to get back in the classroom. "We all miss our kids," one said. 

Teachers in Oklahoma and West Virginia both went on strike for higher pay for nine days earlier this spring. Experts have called this wave of teacher activism "unprecedented." 

Image: Teacher Taylor Dutro listens as protest organizers announce Arizona teachers intentions to go back to work if lawmakers pass a school funding plan, during the fourth day of the statewide teachers' strike at the Arizona capitol May 1. —Ross D. Franklin/AP

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