Six-Day Strike Ends After Arizona Raises Teacher Pay

PHOENIX (CN) – Arizona Governor Doug Ducey early Thursday signed into law a portion of the state budget that will give teachers a 20 percent pay raise over the next three years, ending a six-day walkout by educators.

Lawmakers debated the bill late Wednesday night and into Thursday morning after failing to hear the bill Wednesday afternoon.

Most Democrats in the state House and Senate voted against the Republican-proposed budget.

“It’s amazing that we sit here and we try to call ourselves a hero after we’ve set the house on fire,” said state Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix.

“You can’t set a house on fire, call 911 and claim to be a hero.”

The House approved the budget after five hours of debate by 33-26 vote.

In the Senate, state Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, called out teachers for walking out of classrooms after Ducey proposed a pay hike in April.

“I think that’s inherently wrong,” Smith said.

The state Senate approved the budget item by 20-9 vote.

The raises will cost about $300 million in the next year. Teachers will receive a 9 percent raise in the fall and 5 percent in each of the next two years.

Teachers received a 1 percent raise this year, which Ducey counts toward the 20 percent promised.

“Arizona teachers have earned a raise, and this plan delivers,” Ducey said in a statement. “The impact our teachers have on the lives of Arizona kids cannot be overstated. They work incredibly hard to make a difference for their students. This plan not only provides our teachers with a 20 percent increase in pay by school year 2020, it also provides millions in flexible dollars to improve our public education system.”

As part of the plan, schools also will receive $100 million in assistance to go toward raises for counselors and other support staff who were not included in the pay hike for teachers.

During a “solidarity rally” Thursday morning at the state capitol, organizers encouraged teachers to get back to their classrooms Friday and to greet students as they return to school.

“This movement is not just about teachers in a classroom,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association. “It’s about everyone.”

Many school districts were still closed Thursday, but are expected to reopen Friday.

Since the walkout began April 26, thousands of Arizona teachers, school staff and supporters have descended on the state Capitol daily, demanding higher wages and more education funding.

School funding in Arizona has not increased since cuts were made during the Great Recession.

In the first few days of the walkout, almost all of the state’s 1.1 million public school students were affected and unable to attend school.

The protest in Arizona is modeled on a nine-day demonstration in West Virginia, which resulted in a 4 percent raise there, and similar actions by teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma.

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