Though it isn’t getting the media attention it so dearly deserves, something huge is happening across America. Our nation’s teachers, fed up with their abysmally low pay and with legislatures who would rather hand out tax breaks to the wealthy rather than spend the public’s money to give our children the education they deserve, are striking en masse.
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The success of the recent strikes in West Virginia have inspired similar teacher uprisings in Oklahoma and Kentucky over the past few weeks, and today the teachers of Arizona made history by voting to hold their first-ever statewide walkout on April 26th.
No matter where you look, the stories from the teachers are always the same. Tax cuts for the wealthy and welfare for multinational corporations passed by both Republican and Democratic governments across red states have been followed up with funding cuts and austerity policies to make up the enormous shortfall, leaving school districts starving for funds and teachers having to take second jobs just to get by.
Arizona teachers can make less than $35,000 a year in some districts, with the average capping out in between $42,000 to $45,000 a year – a full $10,000 less than the mean salaries for similar positions in other parts of the country.
On top of that, the school system itself is in desperate need of resources. Since the recession in 2009, Republican governors Jan Brewer and Doug Ducey have withheld over a billion dollars from the Arizona school system – and still haven’t bothered to restore funding to even pre-recession levels.
Those funding cuts have had devastating effects on the public school system.
Because of the cuts, the [Tuscon Unified School] district has postponed basic maintenance that would ensure kids are safe, like replacing old school buses that are dangerously hot with ones that have air conditioning, fixing playground equipment that isn’t up to code or adding keyless entry systems to schools to ensure only parents, teachers and students can get in.
Administrators warn that there are so many critical maintenance projects and renovations that have been neglected for so long that items that once needed repairs now need to be replaced, creating a snowball effect that only the full restoration of funding can fix.
Governor Ducey has proposed a 20% pay increase by 2020, but after taking a closer look it’s obvious that he’s aiming to pay for the raise by cutting other parts of the education budget in a disgraceful attempt to redirect the public’s anger at the teachers and to paint them as the villains in this scenario.
In addition, Ducey’s proposal does nothing for the school support staff – crossguard monitors, assistance, maintenance staff, librarians, cafeteria workers, school counselors, etc.- who are left out in the cold with even lower wages than the teachers make.
“That’s what this movement is about, funding for the entire education system, not just teachers,” said instructional assistant Meredith Scheerer.
— SOSArizona (@arizona_sos) April 18, 2018
So teachers groups have voted to reject the governor’s proposal and are planning to walk off the job on April 26th and strike. “We can no longer allow the status quo in this state to go unchanged. We need to bring the change that our educators and our students and our families in this state need” said Noah Karvelis of Arizona Educators United.
Their decision wasn’t taken lightly. Arizona is a right-to-work state and if school districts decided to play hardball with the strikers they could lose their teaching licenses – but it’s unclear if that will happen, since a strike of this magnitude is unprecedented in the state’s history.
It’s been far too long that our nation’s schools have been neglected and our nation’s teachers abused by their uncaring legislatures. We applaud the brave teachers of Arizona for doing the right thing and taking a stand against a governor who has failed to address the crisis facing their schools and the kids they love so dearly.
Show solidarity with the Arizona teachers by wearing red on April 26th and by donating to their GoFundMe.