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Arizona Teachers Rally for Increased Benefits

Arizona is the latest state to see statewide K-12 teacher protests.

On Wednesday, teachers throughout the state staged “walked-ins,” demanding increased state funding for public education, AZ Central reports.

The Arizona demonstrations come a week after teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma staged their own walkouts and rallies, and more than a month after a nine-day teacher strike in West Virginia ended.

Facing prolonged pay freezes, changes to pensions, and outdated teaching materials, frustrated educators in Arizona, Kentucky, and Oklahoma are demanding change.

As negotiations continue between lawmakers and educators, some question whether the latest protests represent the start of a national trend.

AASA’s recently released national survey of school superintendents revealed that nearly 75 percent of school leaders nationwide believe local schools are “inadequately funded.” Despite strong economic indicators, many school leaders say their schools have been flat funded since the height of the Great Recession.

Arizona teachers “walk-in” for increased funding

Donning red and organizing under the hashtag #RedforEd, public teachers rallied at their schools prior to the start of the school day on Wednesday to demonstrate their demands and frustrations in front of arriving students and parents.

According to AZ Central, Arizona Educators United, which is organizing the demonstrations, has five central demands:

  • Restore funding to 2008 levels
  • Increase teacher pay by 20 percent
  • Increase pay for support staff
  • Create a permanent salary system which includes yearly raises
  • Block new tax cuts until funding meets the national average

Wednesday’s walk-ins were not the first action taken by teachers, CNN reports. In recent weeks, teachers have worn red to school each Wednesday to show their solidarity.

Now it’s up to state lawmakers to decide what happens next. Arizona Educators United has indicated it is willing to call for full-blown teacher walkouts if its demands are not met.

New legislation not enough for Oklahoma teachers

The teacher walkouts that started last Monday came as no surprise to those following the months-long education battle in Oklahoma.
According to NBC News, Oklahoma legislators passed a $6,100 per teacher pay raise at the end of March in an attempt to head off an anticipated labor strike.

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But activists say the new school funding model doesn’t go far enough.

As Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, tells NBC:

“We’re going to say that our Legislature started the process and they have a moral obligation to invest in our children and our children’s future. That obligation has not been met yet. Funding for our students is an issue in every schoolhouse in the state of Oklahoma.”

On Wednesday, the walkouts reached their seventh day. Oklahoma teachers continue to call for a $10,000-per-teacher pay raise, along with an additional $75 million for general education funding, including updated supplies and books.

According to NBC, Oklahoma consistently ranks toward the bottom when it comes to school revenue per student ($3,000 below the national average) and average teacher salary (currently ranked 49th in the country).

Kentucky teachers protest pension changes

Kentucky teachers took time out of their spring breaks to rally at the state capitol in opposition to legislation passed at the end of March that would alter teacher pension plans.

The legislation places new teachers into a retirement plan that is a combination of a 401(k)-style plan and a traditional pension plan. The bill also removes new teachers from something called an “inviolable contract” that protects employees from future changes to their benefit plans.

On Tuesday, Gov. Matt Bevin signed the bill into law, despite teacher opposition, as CNN reports. He also vetoed two budget and revenue bills passed in the Kentucky statehouse that had teacher support.

In response, the Kentucky Education Association is calling for a “day of action” on Friday, inviting teachers to join a rally in the state capital.

As yet another state faces teacher protests, will more educators lend their voices to a growing movement?

Time will tell.

In the meantime, it’s up to districts to actively listen to their staff and faculty members and include them in key conversations.

Are you having a hard time recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in your schools? Is pay a factor? What other issues factor into the challenge. Tell us in the comments.