Arizona teachers, among the lowest paid in the country, are threatening to strike if state lawmakers do not raise their salaries and restore dramatic funding cuts that schools have endured.
Teachers, who organized a grassroots campaign on social media, are demanding a 20 percent raise and restoration of school funding to 2008 levels, before the Great Recession struck, according to the Arizona Republic. They are also asking state lawmakers to stop cutting taxes until Arizona’s per-student spending reaches the national average.
“Governor Ducey, legislature, the last thing that any of us want to do is go on strike, but if we have to, we will,” teacher Dylan Wegela, an organizer of the movement, told protesters Wednesday at a rally outside the state house.
Arizona is the latest state where educators have risen up to demand higher wages and more investment in schools, emboldened by a successful statewide teacher walkout in West Virginia. Teachers there shut down schools for nine days until state lawmakers and the governor agreed to give them — and all state employees — a 5 percent raise.
Teachers in several Oklahoma school districts plan to walk out Monday, demanding a $10,000 raise for themselves, a raise for support staff and additional money for schools. State lawmakers recently passed a bill that would give teachers a $6,000 raise, but many educators plan to stay out of the classroom until the state accedes to their demands.
West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona have weathered some of the steepest cuts to school funding in the nation and their teachers have been among the worst paid. All three lost state revenue as Republicans focused on cutting taxes. West Virginia and Oklahoma have also been hurt by falling oil prices.
That has translated to deteriorating school buildings, outdated textbooks and teachers who are forced to take on second jobs — sometimes as waiters or ride-share drivers — to support themselves and their families. It also has contributed to a shortage of teachers. Arizona and Oklahoma have opted to use emergency certifications — which allows college graduates without formal teacher training — to enter the classroom.
In 2016, average teacher pay in Arizona ranked 43rd in the United States, according to the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union. West Virginia teacher pay ranked 48th and Oklahoma sat at 49th. Schools in those states endured some of the steepest budget cuts in the country, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank. Adjusted for inflation, Arizona schools lost nearly 25 percent of their state and local funding from 2008 to 2015.