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'Our Schools Deserve More!' - Arizona, Colorado teachers in walkouts

April 26. 2018 8:51PM
Scottsdale, Arizona, classified employee Julie Gildersleeve reacts to motorists honking in support and colleagues demonstrate for improved funding for all Arizona schools. Teachers are planning a walk-out statewide on Thursday, April 26 if Governor Doug Ducey and the Legislature fail to make changes to the next state budget to overcome at least ten years of budget shortcomings for teachers, equipment and facilities. Arizona is ranked 49th in the nations for benchmark statistics in measuring the quality of schools. (Rick D'Elia/Zuma Press/TNS)

PHOENIX (Reuters) — Tens of thousands of teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of public school classrooms on Thursday to demand better pay and more education funding, in the latest revolt by educators that has spread to the West.

At least 50,000 teachers and their supporters wearing red T-shirts streamed down city streets in Arizona's capital of Phoenix, carrying placards reading "35 is a Speed Limit NOT a Class Size" and "The Future of Arizona is in my Classroom."

The teachers are demanding an immediate 20 percent increase to salaries which are among the lowest in the country, increased pay for support staff, restoring education funding to 2008 levels, and a freeze on tax cuts until the state's education budget reaches the national average.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has offered a cumulative 20 percent pay rise by 2020 to be largely paid for by growth. He says the state needs low taxes to attract employers, and has pledged $371 million over the next five years for school infrastructure, curriculum, school buses and technology.

"We've all been listening — but now, it's time to act," Ducey said in a statement, as he pushed lawmakers to fund his plan. "My No. 1 focus right now is passing a 20 percent pay raise for Arizona teachers. This raise is earned, and it is deserved."

Teachers say the governor's budget promises are too optimistic and a deal with lawmakers could be years in the offing.

Encouraged by similar protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, organizers said the job action would send a message to state political leaders about their dissatisfaction. Colorado public school teachers announced a two-day walkout for Thursday and Friday and around 3,000 people marched on the state capitol in Denver to demand additional funding, according to protest organizers.

The vast number of Arizona's more than 200 public school districts with roughly 1.1 million students have canceled classes for Thursday and Friday.

"Today will forever be remembered as the day that Arizona educators, after decades of being ignored, stood up and said ENOUGH," tweeted Noah Karvelis, a music teacher and leader of the grassroots Arizona Educators United, a coalition of teachers and education professionals.

By early afternoon, rally organizers adjourned the event as a precaution due to high temperatures.

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