© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arizona Teachers 'Walk-In' To Protest Low Pay And Low Funding

Arizona teachers and education advocates marched at the Arizona Capitol highlighting low teacher pay and school funding last month in Phoenix.
Ross D. Franklin
Arizona teachers and education advocates marched at the Arizona Capitol highlighting low teacher pay and school funding last month in Phoenix.

The teacher protest movement that began in West Virginia in February has spread west to Oklahoma — where teachers are in their second week of walkouts — and now to Arizona.

On Wednesday, Arizona teachers are staging a statewide "walk-in," demanding a boost in pay and more funding for schools overall.

These "walk-ins" are not yet "walk-outs," though organizers have indicated that could be looming possibility. For now, teachers and supporters "walk-in" by coming together in front of schools before class to protest low pay and school funding shortfalls. The group then walks into school together in a show of unity.

The walk-ins are organized by a recently-formed advocacy group, Arizona Educators United.

The social-media based movement grew quickly last month. Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, according to federal data. Average salaries last year were actually $8,000-$9,000 less than 1990 salaries, when adjusted for inflation.

Arizona teachers are demanding a 20 percent raise across the board. Music teacher Noah Karvelis, 23, is one of the organizers.

"The martyrdom is over," Karvelis says. "You see that and you don't have to sit there and take it, you can stand up and make a difference."

Drastic cuts in Arizona's state education funding in the last decade have also left teachers frustrated. Through 2015, Arizona cut more school funding than any other state after the recession; in 2018 funding was nearly 14 percent below what it was in 2008.

Karvelis says his group has put together a negotiating team ready to talk to state leaders about getting more funding and higher salaries.

"We're going to continue to escalate actions," he said. "We need to make a deal here, we need to get our 20 percent."

Lawmakers did give teachers a 1 percent salary increase this year, and Gov. Doug Ducey has promised another 1 percent for the coming school year. However, the governor says he won't increase taxes and says the 20 percent increase teachers are demanding is not likely to happen.

He justified those pay hikes to reporters last month.

"We're definitely trending in the right direction," he said. "I've got a sense of urgency on this."

Organizers of the Arizona teacher movement, like Karvelis, don't think the governor's actions match his words.

"So now we're watching the legislature to see if they'll make any moves because we need a change," Karvelis said. "And if we need to bring that change, if we need to escalate our actions continuously that's what we'll do."

Many schools across Phoenix and the the state had already started holding walk-ins in recent weeks. Last week, two dozen educators at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, Ariz., gathered before school to wave signs as parents dropped their kids off. Desert Ridge Orchestra Director Ajay Patel helped organize his school's walk-in April 4.

"All the teachers here are passionate about what we're doing," Patel says. "So it's really just a matter of getting enough visible action so we can get a good gauge as far as what we can do in the future and that we are unified."

Just over 1,000 schools across Arizona rallying Wednesday, walking into classrooms and not out — yet. For organizers, a strike would be the next step, depending on how much support they see at schools this week.

Copyright 2020 KJZZ. To see more, visit KJZZ.

Casey Kuhn