Arizona governor announces deal to raise teacher pay on second day of walkout

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Friday announced a deal with state legislative leaders to raise teachers’ pay 20 percent by 2020, as educators stayed away from classrooms a second straight day in a spreading revolt over salaries and school funding.

In a joint statement with Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, Ducey said the deal would also restore funding for schools that were cut in the last recession.

The funds would be “flexible dollars for superintendents to use for support staff pay increases, update antiquated curriculum and improve school infrastructure – without raising taxes,” the statement said.

The legislature would work through the weekend “to introduce a budget early next week and pass it shortly thereafter,” the statement said. Representatives for teachers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Arizona educators were joined in protests by teachers in Colorado over the same issues, but little progress was made there on Friday. The walkouts are part of a wave of actions by teachers in states that have some of the lowest per-student spending in the county. A nearly two-week strike in Oklahoma ended earlier this month with a pay rise for teachers.

Ducey, a Republican, had earlier offered a cumulative 20 percent pay rise by 2020 and pledged $371 million over the next five years for school infrastructure, curriculum, school buses and technology.

But he had not secured an agreement with the legislature on those promises until Friday’s deal.

Arizona teachers have been demanding a 20 percent increase in salaries, a return of education funding to 2008 levels and a freeze on tax cuts until the education budget reaches the national average.

(Education funding 2008 thru 2015: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Iumbck)

(U.S. Teacher Salaries in 2017 https://tmsnrt.rs/2IsvlGa)

FROZEN SINCE RECESSION

Teachers in Colorado and Arizona donned red T-shirts and rallied for a second day on Friday in the swelling teachers’ movement.

Waving placards such as “Teachers Just Want To Have Fund$,” thousands of Colorado educators descended on the state capitol building in Denver to demand the booming state cough up hundreds of millions of dollars a year in school spending frozen since the recession.

“We have educators working two or three jobs to make ends meet,” said Kerrie Dallman, head of the Colorado Education Association, a statewide federation of teachers’ unions organizing the two-day walkout.

In Arizona, teachers are among the lowest paid in the country.

The protests have been spurred by activism in Republican-controlled states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma that brought increases in pay and budgets.

Arizona’s historic state-wide strike has closed public schools serving more than 800,000 students. In Colorado, at least 600,000 students were not in class on Friday.

The conservative Goldwater Institute sent letters to Arizona school districts warning them that the group may sue if classrooms remain closed in an “illegal strike.”

In Denver, protesting educators cheered as Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper told them he knew they were underpaid. However, they booed after he laid out a school spending proposal that was short of their demands.

“They’ve been telling us they value us, and we’re underpaid since 2009,” said one demonstrator, who asked not to be named.

Colorado lawmakers have offered schools the biggest budget increase since the recession. Teachers want the state to repay funding withheld under its strict budget laws since 2009, address a 3,000-teacher shortage and adequately staff schools with counselors, social workers and special educators.

(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)