Wave of teacher strikes hits country

A picketer gestures at a vehicle honking its horn outside of The Academy I Middle School during a teacher strike, Friday, March 16, 2018, in Jersey City, N.J. The strike began early Friday after the teachers union and the district failed to reach a deal. The two sides have been negotiating since last year, but talks have stalled over health care costs. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Arizona teachers who have organized to push for big raises and a restoration of school funding are threatening a statewide walkout, following the lead of educators across the country, including Oklahoma where schools have been closed for more than a week.

The group of about 40,000 members in Arizona says Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature have not responded to requests for negotiations.

Leaders of Oklahoma’s largest teacher’s union want a capital gainstax exemption repealed and for the governor to veto a repeal of a proposed lodging tax as they push for more education funding. They already won pay raises of about $6,100, but many educators say their classrooms need more money.

Other states, including West Virginiaand Kentucky, have seen teacher strikes or protests this year as the education community revolts against years of cuts and lower spending.

Arizona education advocates say the state is spending nearly $1 billion a year less on schools than before the Great Recession, and they want that funding restored.

The state’s teachers are among the lowest-paid in the nation. The teachers group that sprang up in March is demanding a 20 percent pay hike and annual raises, higher pay for support staff, a restoration of school funding to 2008 levels and an end to new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.

The Arizona group has held #RedforEd protests at the state Capitol and statewide for weeks and plans “walk-ins” at least 1,000 schools across the state on Wednesday to highlight their efforts. Karvelis said 30,000 educators have ratified the group’s demand list and they are nearing their goal of getting enough teachers to approve a statewide walkout.

“It looks like we’re going to hit those numbers shortly here,” he said before heading to his teaching job early Tuesday. “In the meantime our governor and our Legislature have not responded to our demands, our request for meetings. So it seems like the only language they understand is escalated action here.”

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Arizona elementary teachers earned a median wage of $43,280 in 2017 and high school teachers $46,470, the third and sixth lowest in the nation, respectively. Adjusted for local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers actually rank 49th in earnings and high school teachers 48th.

Texas was 27th in the nation for teacher pay in 2016, according to latest data available from the National Education Association. That year, the average teacher salary in the state was $51,890, about $6,500 below the national average.