Arizona Teachers Expected to Return to Classrooms

PHOENIX (CN) — Organizers of a statewide walkout told Arizona teachers to return to classrooms Thursday if the Legislature, as expected, passes a proposed budget that will grant teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020.

“We need this to move forward; we need them to do their jobs and get this done,” said Noah Karvelis, a teacher and organizer, at a Tuesday evening news conference. “We’ve done our jobs; we’ve gotten it this far. We’ll be ready to go back by Thursday.”

As part of his budget plan, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is offering teachers a 20 percent pay hike, and an additional $371 million over the next five years for school districts to improve buildings and technology, and buy new buses.

Ducey’s proposed budget, which began working its way through the state Senate and House on Tuesday, was expected to pass Wednesday and be signed promptly.

Rebecca Garelli, a teacher in the Alhambra Elementary School District, said the greatest victory for teachers is the public awareness their movement created.

“It is time for us to get back to our students and back into our classrooms,” Garelli said. “We need to continue the fight for the additional resources we need.”

Hundreds of schools across the state remained closed Tuesday as the walkout entered its fourth day, affecting nearly two-thirds of the state’s 1.1 million K-12 students.

Teachers walked out of their classrooms on Thursday, April 26 to protest low salaries and limited education funding since the Great Recession.

Thousands of teachers and support staff have descended upon the state Capitol daily to place pressure on the Legislature to meet their demands.

The walkout was modeled upon a nine-day protest in West Virginia, which gained teachers there a 4 percent raise, and similar actions in Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation.

Average pay for Arizona elementary school teachers is $40,860 per year; the average is $46,070 for secondary teachers.

“As educators, students are the center of everything we do,” said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association. “And this fight that we are in the middle of is about those students. … If we have the resources to support us, we will have the ability to support our students.”

In an open letter to educators and parents Tuesday, Ducey said that “revenues through March were $262 million above forecast,” and that the expected economic growth could give Arizona “over $1.5 billion in additional revenues over the next five years.”

He added: “Our plan directs this revenue to our biggest budget priority: public education, and it does it in a way that is responsible, sustainable and solidifies our commitment for years to come.”

A number of school districts will remain closed through Thursday.

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