Schools across the state were empty starting Apr. 26 as Arizona Educators United (AEU) started a walkout that took place throughout all Arizona school districts. Those walking out sought to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with Gov. Doug Ducey’s 20 percent raise by 2020 proposal.
In Flagstaff, protesters gathered downtown.
Over 400 teachers, parents and students marched from Heritage Square to City Hall where a rally was orchestrated to demand increased funding for Arizona schools.
Representatives from AEU stated Ducey’s proposal only satisfies one of the original five demands they set.
According to AEU, the proposal does include a 20 percent raise for teachers within Arizona, but that is the only demand satisfied.
The demands the proposal failed to meet were providing the same competitive wages for administrators and other support staff within the schools, containing a permanent salary structure with annual raises and restoring education funding to 2008 levels.
The final demand, to get per-person spending back to 2008 levels, was not addressed either.
The Lumberjack has contacted the Office of the Governor for a response from Gov. Ducey but has yet to receive a reply.
On April 24, the governor met with legislators to discuss possible changes to the 20 percent raise by 2020 proposal. Democratic Senator Steve Farley told ABC15 in Phoenix the meeting was not productive in his opinion, and he left the meeting feeling discouraged.
“We were basically subjected to a lecture with a whole bunch of talking points we have heard before about how the governor believes his plan is fully funded, totally sustainable and totally great,” Farley told ABC15.
On the final school day before the walkout, Flagstaff High School (FHS) teachers gathered in front of the school to participate in one final walk-in.
FHS history teacher Mitch Askew said he believed the walkout was about making legislators do their jobs.
“We have underfunded schools, that needs changing. There’s a problem that needs to be fixed,” said Askew, “and it’s their [the legislature’s] job as public servants [to fix it].”
Some who support Gov. Ducey’s plan argue Arizona educators are playing politics with the school system. FHS calculus teacher Sheri Bain stated that, for her, politics had nothing to do with her decision to walkout.
“This is seriously overdue. Even conservative Republicans that voted for Ducey because he promised change in education are striking,” said Sheri Bain. “That would be me.”
Sheri Bain explained, even though she was not a fan of the act of walkingout, she and educators around the state were not walkingout for personal greed. She said the teacher shortage Arizona schools currently face was another reason she chose to walkout.
Salaries for teachers in Arizona are low, which makes it hard to attract experienced, qualified educators, according to Sheri Bain.
“We have young teachers that are leaving the industry. We can’t get qualified teachers to fill all the vacancies we already have on top of special education and support staff [vacancies] as well. We can’t find enough people to fill the spaces we have,” Sheri Bain said.
Lorri Bain, FHS transition specialist for students with disabilities and with no relation to Sheri Bain, said low pay was not the only reason teachers did not want to come to Arizona.
Overall work hours have been cut on top of the funding cuts. The school districts themselves are starved of funding.
“Hours have been cut back for most of them [teachers] because the school district can’t afford to give them health insurance anymore,” said Lorri Bain.
At 7:55 a.m., the teachers walked back into FHS for the last day of classes before the walkout.
The next morning, local people began gathering at Heritage Square. By 11:00 a.m., the crowd had swelled to over 400.
They began marching down San Francisco Street until they arrived at East Route 66. Then they turned west and marched towards City Hall. Once there, the rally organizers led the crowd in chants and explained why they organized the walkout.
Kinsey Elementary School teacher Travis Doerfler stated he believed funding education was not a partisan issue.
“This is not a political movement. I am very, very conservative and I come from a very conservative background. I vote Republican in almost every election and I even voted for Doug Ducey, but supporting education should not be [made] political,” said Doerfler.
Darby Lorents, an NAU English and secondary education graduate student, took the microphone and shared her experience with Arizona’s education system and summarized some of the reactions she receives when she tells people she wants to be a teacher.
“I get a lot of looks like, ‘What are you thinking? You’re not going to get paid, you’re going to have to spend your own money on your school supplies, you’re not going to get any respect from the parents.’ But that’s not true,” said Lorents. “Right? We’re in this together.”
She went on to explain education is not only a human rights issue, but it is an infrastructure issue as well. Lorents stressed that in order to have good communities, good education is needed.
“JFK said, ‘Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.’ The human mind is our fundamental resource. If we are going to be competitive in the world, we need to fund education like it deserves to be funded,” Lorents said.
Since the walkout began, the Office of the Governor did release a response from Gov. Ducey.
Again, he did not address any of AEU five original demands except for the 20 percent salary increase for teachers. Instead, Gov. Ducey used the opportunity to urge residents within the state to call their legislators and advocate for his proposal.