Hopes to End Arizona Teacher Strike Dim as Legislators Balk on Budget

Arizona teacher Aurelia Ionescu, front right, chants with other teachers as protest organizers announce their intention to go back to work as the state-wide teachers strike enters a fourth day at the Arizona Capitol, Tuesday, May 1, 2018, in Phoenix. Organizers vowed to continue the fight for more school funding but stated that they would go back to work once the new state budget is passed. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (CN) – A teacher walkout in Arizona will extend into a sixth day after Arizona legislators on Wednesday failed to vote on a budget to grant educators a 20 percent raise.

Educators packed the state Senate gallery on the fifth day of the walkout Wednesday to hear the budget plan proposed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican legislators brought to the floor.

As part of the deal, Ducey has proposed a 20 percent increase in teachers’ salaries by 2020, and an additional $371 million in school funding over five years to be used by school districts for improvements of buildings, buses and technology.

“I want to say thank you to the families, the teachers, everyone who has been out here,” said state Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma. “This is democracy in action.”

State Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, said he has wanted a full gallery since he began a career in public service.

“It’s much better if constituents are here. I commend you for being here,” Farnsworth said.

Despite the sentiments, however, the Senate recessed without hearing the budget.

The state House also recessed without voting on the budget.

“We know that it has always been that we wanted to pass the budget today so we can give teachers the opportunity to spend time with their kids in school,” said state Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix. “It’s outrageous.”

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the House was working to advance the budget.

“We are not slowing down, but there is a certain amount of paperwork and staff work that is going on behind the scenes,” Mesnard said before calling the recess.

Organizers for the walkout said Tuesday that teachers would return to classrooms Thursday if the Legislature passed the budget. But in a Facebook video posted late Wednesday afternoon, organizers with Arizona Educators United asked teachers to continue the walkout Thursday.

“We need everybody here at the capitol until this budget is passed,” said organizer Dylan Wegela. “That is what we said yesterday, and that is the sentiment we’re hearing from the people who are here.”

In a tweet Wednesday, Ducey said he is ready to sign the bill.

“We introduced this plan, along with school leaders and legislators, on April 12,” Ducey wrote. “With the input of the ed community and teachers, our plan improved.”

House Majority Whip Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said the budget should be passed by Saturday.

“The budget is moving forward in the form presented by our great governor who didn’t need to do this but out of the benevolence of his heart has once again gone above and beyond for the people of this state,” Townsend said in a statement.

The walkout, which began April 26, prompted thousands of Arizona teachers to descend on the state capitol daily demanding higher wages and more education funding. School funding has not increased in the state since cuts were made during the Great Recession.

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

 

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