Arizona Teachers Vote in Favor of Statewide Walkout

Teachers and school workers protesting low teacher pay and school funding in Phoenix this month.
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Arizona educators voted late Thursday in favor of a statewide walkout, as teacher protests over low pay and school funding continued to sweep across the United States.

The spread of the protests to Arizona from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, all Republican-dominated states with weak public sector unions, signaled the depth of frustration from teachers and parents over years of education budget cuts.

The movement first arose in West Virginia, where teachers walked off the job in February, winning a $2,000 raise. In Oklahoma, the threat of a walkout garnered a $6,000 raise for teachers, but they still picketed the Capitol for nine days, calling for additional school funding that mostly did not come. In Kentucky, teachers have rallied outside the State Capitol to protest changes to their pension plans and to demand more money for schools.

“It’s clear that our educators are inspired by what they’ve seen in West Virginia and Oklahoma and Kentucky,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “They see educators rising up and lifting their voices for their students, and doing so in a way that can’t be ignored.”

The vote in Arizona followed weeks of protest across the state and promises from the governor to raise salaries. The Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United, a group of teachers who organized independently on Facebook, said that 78 percent of the teachers and school workers who cast ballots supported a walkout.

The groups said the walkout would take place on April 26 if legislators and the governor did not meet their demands, not only for a raise for teachers but also one for school support staff. They also called for an end to tax cuts until Arizona’s per-pupil spending reaches the national average.

Unlike West Virginia and Oklahoma, Arizona has never before had a statewide teacher walkout, and has experienced only a handful of districtwide strikes over the past four decades.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Dana Goldstein