Despite threats from education officials and lawmakers, thousand upon thousands teachers across Colorado and Arizona staged walkouts on Thursday after spending weeks calling attention to low teacher pay and insufficient school funding—and following similar protests in numerous other Republican-controlled states.
“Our students, educators, parents and communities have been backed up against a wall for more than a decade,” Ralph Quintana, president of Arizona’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said in a statement as the union prepared to strike.
Arizona’s walkout—the first in the state’s history, drawing an estimated 50,000 educators—follows weeks of “walk-ins,” in which teachers promoted the hashtag #RedForEd and wore red to protests outside school hours, joined by parents, students, and other supporters.
The state’s teacher salaries rank 43rd in the nation, according to the National Education Association, and school funding was cut drastically between 2008 to 2015, following the economic meltdown and recession. Arizona currently spends 13.6 percent less per pupil than it did 10 years ago, adjusted for inflation.
Despite an offer of a 20 percent pay increase by 2020 from Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, 78 percent of the state’s teachers voted last week to stage a strike to signal that their grievances are about the quality of education Arizona children are receiving while the state offers $100 million in corporate tax cuts.
Eight hundred miles northeast of the main #RedForEd event in Phoenix, thousands of Colorado teachers assembled at Denver’s Capitol building for the first of two days of protests.
Earlier this week, two Republican state lawmakers introduced a bill to punish any educators who participated in the strike, with fines, firing, or up to six months in jail. State Senate Democrats denounced the proposal as “anti-worker trash,” and teachers were not deterred from protesting.
“Certainly what happened in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky has fired up public school educators but the truth of the matter is we’ve been suffering from cuts in our schools and classrooms since 2009,” Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, told the Denver Post. “The fact so many are coming [to Thursday’s walkout] is a real testament to the growing frustration of public school educators in the state of Colorado.”
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