Politics

Arizona Teachers Latest to Walk Out, Members Supportive

Grand Canyon State ramps up protest, lawmakers react across U.S.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., speaks with Roll Call in his office in the Longworth Building. Grijalva said he supports Arizona teachers in the fight for better education funding, as teachers voted on a Friday walkout. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Arizona teachers voted Thursday night to join their counterparts in states such as West Virginia and Kentucky protesting wage and benefit cuts.

Teachers in the state voted through the Arizona Education Association to participate in a statewide walkout Friday to fight for better pay and school funding.

The action follows similar ones in a growing number of states. As teacher organizing heats up, here’s what lawmakers from those states have said about the actions so far:

Arizona

Arizona teachers are participating in a statewide walkout Friday. Teachers voted Thursday night on whether to strike or walk out the next day.

Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva said he supports the teacher actions. The state ranks 43rd in education, according to a 2017 Education Week report. Grijalva said the potential action is because of Gov. Doug Ducey and the current state legislature’s unwillingness to fund public education.

“The administration continues to talk about tax cuts for the wealthiest, and pretend you’re going to fund education,” Grijalva said. “But people are fed up. Now it’s at the feet of Gov. Ducey. Any consequences — a walkout or a strike — it’s their fault.”

Rep. Tom O’Halleran said a strike isn’t ideal but teachers and school staff need adequate pay.

“These hardworking men and women should not be paying the price of the State’s cost-cutting measures,” the Arizona Democrat said. “While no one wants to see a strike that prevents our children from attending school for any amount of time, our teachers and staff have the right to voice their opinions and demand change.”

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West Virginia

West Virginia Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin III both expressed support for the West Virginia teacher strikes.

Schools shut down for over a week because of the strikes, as teachers called on the state legislature not to get rid of benefits, such as health insurance, without giving raises to make up for the change.

“I disagreed with the tactics of being out as long,” Capito, a Republican, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “But I think part of that, without throwing anybody under the bus, was what went forward was the only way to get the commiserate attention that the teachers needed.”

Manchin also said he wanted the strike to end. The Democrat sided with teachers on Twitter, saying West Virginia Republicans were preventing teachers from going back to school.

The strike ended March 6 when state lawmakers agreed to raise teacher wages 5 percent.

Oklahoma

Shortly after West Virginia’s strike, Oklahoma teachers followed suit with a nine-day strike protesting low teacher wages in the state.

Rep. Tom Cole said he understood teachers and parents acted for a reason, but still commended the legislature for their budget action. It depends on “what’s appropriate and how fast a legislative body can act,” the Republican said in a Fox 25 interview.

GOP Sen. James Lankford said education funding in the state should expand but disagreed with some of the proposed budget solutions.

“I’d be very disappointed if we expanded casino gambling again thinking that’s going to be the latest solution again for schools,” Lankford told News 9. “We should be able to fill that budget gap without having to do that as well.”

Unlike West Virginia, Oklahoma teachers did not get what they wanted out of their two-week strike. Public school spending increased from $2.4 billion this year to $2.9 billion next year, roughly the same amount the state legislature had already agreed to pass.

Kentucky

The strike in Kentucky is about the state’s broken pension plan, not just wage deficits. Kentucky has nearly $15 billion in unpaid liabilities for teacher pensions, according to a financial management study.

Teachers protested a bill Gov. Matt Bevin planned to sign that would make significant rollbacks to teacher retirement plans.

Some protestors targeted an event the governor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP Rep. Harold Rogers spoke at, the Sentinel Echo reported. Neither McConnell nor Rogers has commented on the protests.

Bevin said the teacher strike could cause children to be sexually assaulted.

The state legislature overrode the governor’s veto of the budget, which increased tax-funded education spending by $480 million. The strike ended last week.

Colorado

Some Colorado teachers are taking action to demand better compensation as well. One school district closed April 16 because teachers called out on a personal day to protest. Activists hope more school districts will close April 27, the state’s planned day of action.

Teachers in Colorado earn about $7,000 below the national average in the profession, according to a survey by the Colorado School Finance Project, a nonprofit education watchdog.

So far, no Colorado legislators have commented on the protests.

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