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Teachers in Arizona hold statewide ‘walk-in’ ahead of potential walkout

Teachers at Humphrey Elementary school participate in a state-wide walk-in prior to classes Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Chandler, Ariz. Arizona teachers are demanding a 20 percent pay raise and more than $1 billion in new education funding. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — For the second Wednesday in a row, hundreds of teachers from schools across Arizona joined forces before classes to participate in so-called “walk-ins” to call for better paychecks and teaching supplies.

The “walk-ins” were planned at about 1,000 schools statewide, as part of the #RedForEd movement launched by Arizona Educators United. Teachers said they will hold the protests every Wednesday this month.

The organization has rallied teachers and supporters to take to the streets for weeks to call on pay raises, but it could soon reach another level.

Organizer Derek Harris said Arizona Educators United will be announcing a date for teachers to walk out of their classrooms as soon as later this week.

“I’m not going to say what that date is, I only want you to know that it is coming and we kind of have to keep it under wraps because once the cat’s out of the bag, we can’t put it back in,” Harris said in a Facebook video posted Monday.

Dozens of parents and teachers at Maryland Elementary School in Phoenix participated in the Wednesday demonstration.

One parent told KTAR News 92.3 FM that her son’s textbook was filled with outdated information, saying that Jimmy Carter was still president and Pluto was still a planet.

Maryland Elementary School teacher Leon Shinksi said teachers are preparing for the possibility of a long-term walkout if they can’t get a pay boost and better classroom materials.

“Our biggest concern is the children,” he said.

“That’s the most difficult [thing.] Mom and dads can’t afford to take the day off work. What’s going to happen with the children? Will they be fed? We offer free breakfast and lunch.”

Another Maryland Elementary School teacher, Jadah Julian, told KTAR News 92.3 FM that the last thing that any teacher wants to do is walk out, but argued that the classroom supplies they teach with are ridiculous.

“It’s not fair to the kids. The generation growing up deserves a lot better,” Julian said.

“We’re fighting for them to have what they deserve in the classroom as well. Everyone realizes it’s time for serious change. If the governor isn’t serious, then we will step things up to a walk out.”

Stephanie Terry, a 36-year-old single mother of two and a special-education teacher at Fowler Elementary School in Phoenix, said she makes $36,000 annually and lives with her parents.

“I’m not the only one here struggling at this school,” she told fellow teachers during the protest outside the school.

Noah Karvelis, a co-founder of Arizona Educators United, said while the request for raises has received the most attention, teachers were ultimately fighting for their students.

“Our teachers are part of it, but we’re having kids learning in abysmal situations — no paper towels in the classrooms, no textbooks in the classroom, no chairs or not enough chairs for kids,” he said.

“We’re essentially throwing away a whole generation of Arizonans and their futures and that’s unacceptable.”

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell also participated in the #RedForEd movement on Wednesday.

The #RedForEd movement has mobilized teachers and supporters across the state, encouraging them to wear red, hold signs and confront lawmakers — including Gov. Doug Ducey — head-on about their inability to raise teacher pay to pre-Great Recession levels.

Arizona Educators United has called on Ducey to increase teacher pay by 20 percent, have competitive pay for all school employees, restore per student funding to 2008 levels, enact a permanent salary structure that allows for predictable raises and to raise Arizona funding to the national average.

Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. Adjusted for local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers in Arizona rank 50th in earnings nationally and high school teachers rank 49th.

National Education Association data showed Arizona teachers are paid around $47,000 annually, compared to a national average of about $58,000.

Teachers have expressed frustration with low salaries for years, but the statewide movement took off after teachers in West Virginia successfully won a 5 percent raise after a statewide strike.

In response, Ducey has said that he was willing to sit down with teachers, but argued that he was not willing to take part in what he called a “political circus.”

“I’m going to work with teachers and I’m going to work with decision makers,” Ducey told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac and Gaydos.

“Now I want to separate that out. I’m trying to help the teachers inside K-12 but I’m going to stay out of the political theater and the political activists.”

But Ducey, who is up for reelection this year, said last month that he would not raise teacher pay, instead sticking to a 1 percent raise and telling school districts to get whatever they can out of the $100 million he was putting into his current budget proposal.

Oklahoma teachers have walked out in protest over educating funding, and Kentucky educators called in sick to protest pension reform.

KTAR News’ Jim Cross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.