Arizona Teachers Vote to Walk Out
UPDATE: Friday evening, Deer Valley Unified School District announced it will close all schools on April 26 in the event of a walkout.
Day Care Options: If you know of an organization in North Phoenix, including Anthem, that is providing free or low-cost day care services April 26 to significant numbers of those in need, please fill out this form so we can add it to the list.
UPDATED 1:05 p.m. Friday, April 20 — Public school employees across Arizona voted in favor of a walkout over pay for teachers and support staff and funding for education in general. With more than 57,000 votes, 78 percent said yes to a walkout, organizers announced Thursday night.
Walk-ins will continue through Wednesday, April 25. “On Thursday we will begin a walkout,” said Noah Karvelis, a teacher and an organizer with Arizona Educators United, a group that has led the #RedforEd movement. “We can no longer allow the status quo to go unchanged.”
Deer Valley Unified School District administrators are working to determine if they’ll have enough staff to keep schools open should there be a strike, but superintendent Curtis Finch advised parents Friday afternoon to make daycare plans as needed.
“Arizona educators have delivered a strong message tonight,” said Joe Thomas, Arizona Education Association President. “This is undeniably and clearly a mandate for action.” [#RedForEd FAQ: Facts, Views & How We Got Here]
It is not clear if all educators at all schools will participate, or what consequences may be faced by those who strike. But Thomas opened a door to avoiding the walkout.
“We want to see movement on the demands,” Thomas said. “We’ve sent two letters to the governor [seeking a meeting] and we’ve heard absolutely nothing.” He hopes the legislature will meet the group’s demands by Thursday.
Organizers were not ready to say how long the walkout might last, should no solution be found.
Thomas and others leading the fight for change dismissed a proposal last week by Gov. Doug Ducey to raise teacher pay 20 percent by 2020. The proposal leaves out non-teaching educators and other support staff, critics say. And it does not address years of chronic underfunding that have left some school buildings crumbling, equipment broken and textbooks outdated, Karvelis said.
Arizona has cut public school funding by $4.56 billion dollars since 2009, according to the Arizona School Boards Association. Funding per student, adjusted for inflation, fell from $8,580 in 2008 to $7,229 in 2017—a 15.7 percent drop.
“We are truly in a state of crisis right now,” Karvelis said.
Ducey’s proposal has the support of several business groups. But Thomas and others, including the Arizona PTA, are concerned where the money would come from to fund the proposal.
The Arizona PTA said when it first looked at the governor’s proposal, it was in line with PTA priorities. But on Wednesday, Beth Simek, the group’s president, said that after closer examination of how the plan would be funded, “we can no longer support the governor’s proposal.” She urged the legislature to find a long-term, sustainable source for the increased education funding.
The legislature was expected to begin debating the governor’s proposal this week, and would have to vote on any plan.
“No one wants to see teachers strike,” Ducey said in a tweet Thursday night. “If schools shut down, our kids are the ones who lose out.”
Behind the Walkout
Teachers supporting the walkout say it’s not just about their paychecks, but about the Arizona’s general underfunding of education — the state is ranked near the bottom in the nation. Meanwhile, teacher workload has grown as support staffs have shrunk and student-teacher ratios have climbed. As a result, 42 percent of Arizona teachers hired in 2013 were no longer teaching in the state by 2016, according to a study by the Arizona State University Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
On the eve of the vote, Selena Mattern, a teacher who is leading the #RedForEd movement at Boulder Creek High School, said: “We really don’t want to walk out. But if that is what we’re headed towards to get funding for our students and back to where we were in 2008, many of us are getting prepared.”
“If a strike is planned, DVUSD will make every effort to avoid closing schools,” said superintendent Curtis Finch in a letter to parents April 13. “We are currently working on plans to keep our schools open in the event of work stoppage. However, if we have too few staff members to safely hold school, we may be forced to closed schools. You may want to consider an alternative daycare plan in the event that schools are forced to close.”
If schools were closed due to any possible strike, the school year would be extended to make up the days, DVUSD said in an FAQ about the situation.