Arizona teachers' strike will continue Monday; Colorado ralliers pin hopes on ballot initiative
PHOENIX — To beat the heat, thousands of Arizona teachers gathered early Friday at the state Capitol for a second day of rallies while educators in Colorado had near-perfect weather in Denver for an afternoon protest.
The temperature reached 99 degrees by 3 p.m. MST in Phoenix. To beat a different kind of heat, legislators in the GOP-dominated Arizona House and Senate on Thursday adjourned early for the week, allowing lawmakers steer clear of the protesters.
“I’m disappointed they left. I’m disappointed they won’t have a conversation," said Barbara Skinner, an instructional specialist in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa. “We want people to know that this isn’t something that just happened a week ago. This has been 10 years in the making.”
The crowds were estimated at about a 10th of Thursday's 50,000 participants.
► April 26: Arizona teachers strike for more money; protests spread to Colorado
► April 25: What worries parents most about the Arizona teacher walkout
► April 25: Pot taxes across U.S. shore up school budgets, drug-prevention efforts
While teachers in both states are concerned about their salaries — average teacher pay in Arizona is $47,403 ranking 44th among states and the District of Columbia and Colorado teachers average $51,808, 31st in the nation — what they really want is respect and financial support for their classrooms.
"I've had enough of not having enough," said Martha Petty, who teaches media studies at Harris Bilingual Elementary School in Fort Collins, Colo., and has been teaching for 32 years. "I still love the kids and I still want to make it great. So, Colorado, make it great.”
Since 2009, Colorado legislators have reduced the amount of money they directed to help rural schools, those serving high populations of at-risk students and those serving communities with a high cost of living. At the moment, that underfunding is $822 million a year, $6.6 billion total for the past decade, said Kerrie Dallman, Colorado Education Association president.
Colorado lawmakers don’t have the power to raise taxes without asking voters. So the teachers’ union is backing a ballot initiative to raise taxes on people earning more than $150,000 a year and corporations.
“When I don’t have to work a second job, I can spend more time planning,” said Sarah Buck, a teacher with the Adams 12 Five Stars Schools in the Denver suburb of Thornton. “Most of my income goes to supplies for my kids.”
For the past two days, Colorado's teachers have used personal days to make their trek to the Capitol and have heard supportive messages from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“We see you. We hear you,” said Hickenlooper, who wore a red checked shirt in support of the #RedForEd movement. “We are working with you, not just today.”
A teacher in Colorado protests April 27, 2018, at the state Capitol in Denver. (Photo: Kelly Ragan, The (Fort Collins) Coloradoan)
In contrast, participating Arizona teachers voted to walk out and are relying on the support of school districts, parents and other taxpayers to make their point.
Arizona teachers want a 20% raise but also have four other demands, including raises for support staff, yearly teacher raises, a restoration of $1 billion in state money for education that has been cut since the recession and no new tax cuts until the state per-pupil monies reach the national average. Arizona's 2017 per-pupil expenditures were $7,501; the national average was $11,642, according to a National Education Association report released earlier this month.
"In order to keep my job teaching, I’ve had to downsize my home so I could still afford to teach," said Irene Vasquez, 56, a math teacher in the Phoenix suburb of Peoria. "I've never not had a part-time job. But you do what you do because you love it."
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who is seeking re-election this year, announced Friday afternoon that he had reached a deal with the Legislature's Republican leaders that includes a 20% raise for teachers by 2020. But his plan does not doesn’t address educators' other demands.
Ducey made his announcement after teachers had left the Capitol for the day and the Republican did not talk with teachers either day. Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association said the state's teachers will walk out for a third consecutive day Monday.
“I think we have to come back Monday because they closed shop and ran away from us yesterday, and we have to show them that they don’t get to run away from our students,” Thomas said. No specific end is in sight.
The Goldwater Institute, a conservative Arizona think tank, announced it had sent letters to the state's public schools warning that parents and students may sue if they don't resume classes immediately, saying students have a constitutional right to an education and teachers are legally required to comply with their contracts as government employees.
A coalition of progressive groups filed paperwork Friday to start the process for an Arizona ballot initiative that would raise the income tax rate 3.46% on individuals who earn more than $250,000 or households that earn more than $500,000. It also would raise individual rates 4.46% for individuals who earn more than $500,000.
The initiative would designate 60% of its money for teacher salaries and 40% for district and charter school operation and maintenance expenses if organizers get enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. It also would allow money to cover full-day kindergarten and pay raises for student-support personnel and would require that governing boards receive input from teachers and staff on how to spend the funds.
Arizona's #RedforEd organizers have demanded the state restore education money to 2008 levels. Arizona spends $924 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars today than it did in 2008, according to Arizona's Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
Contributing: Kelly Ragan, Sady Swanson, The (Fort Collins) Coloradoan; Allison Sylte, KUSA-TV, Denver; Ricardo Cano, Ryan Randazzo, Richard Ruelas, Catherine Reagor, Alexis Egeland, Lauren Castle and Megan Janetsky, The Arizona Republic. Follow Dustin Gardiner on Twitter: @dustingardiner