Arizona teachers mob lawmakers in third day of walkout

By David Schwarz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Arizona teachers carried their walkout over school funding and pay into a third day on Monday as a national union leader backed the latest in a string of national educator protests and allies proposed a $690 million tax hike to pay for their demands.

Thousands of red-clad Arizona teachers descended on the state Capitol in Phoenix and mobbed lawmakers as they arrived for work. The teachers waved placards reading “We can’t Live on Apples Alone” and singing “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” the anthem of the #RedForEd teachers movement sweeping the United States.

“Our students deserve better and we are continuing to fight,” said Noah Karvelis, a walkout leader who helped start the Arizona movement on a Facebook page with fellow teachers.

The walkout is keeping the vast majority of the state’s 1.1 million school children out of class. It follows strikes in four other states, the first statewide U.S. teacher stoppages since the 1990s and an unprecedented wave of national protests.

Educators in Colorado returned to classrooms on Monday after a two-day walkout to push for a ballot initiative on a tax hike to fund school budgets, according to the Colorado Education Association, which groups state teachers’ unions.

Arizona’s conservative Goldwater Institute think tank has threatened to sue the state’s public school superintendents if they do not resume classes, saying they have a duty to educate students and teachers are in an “illegal strike.”

Arizona teachers’ pay is among the lowest in the country and a group of educators, parents and former lawmakers proposed a November ballot initiative for tax hikes on higher-earners to raise salaries and school budgets.

“It’s time to make investing in public education Arizona’s top priority,” former lawmaker David Lujan, a leader of the Arizona ballot initiative, told a news conference.

The Arizona walkouts follow strikes this spring in Republican-controlled states that put limits on education spending during the 2007-2009 recession and never fully removed them.

The president of the American Federation for Teachers, Randi Weingarten, appeared at the Phoenix rally after supporting teacher protests in West Virginia and Oklahoma in recent weeks that won school funding increases.

(Reporting by David Schwarz in Phoenix Arizona and Keith Coffman in Denver, Colorado; Writing by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and David Gregorio)