Here is the latest news regarding Arizona’s classroom crisis
PHOENIX — Educators and supporters across Arizona marched to the Arizona Capitol on Thursday hoping to push state lawmakers to pass a budget that includes funding for increased teacher and support staff pay and better classroom conditions.
Classes were canceled in dozens of school districts, a ripple effect of staffing because of the walkout, which began around 11 a.m.
The walkout was the latest and largest effort to raise pay for teachers since Arizona Teachers United first encouraged Arizonans to wear red on Wednesdays to show support for state teachers in March.
Since then, teachers and supporters have been taking to the streets, marching and chanting along sidewalks and gathering at places such as the KTAR News 92.3 FM studios and the Arizona Capitol building to confront lawmakers and demonstrate how necessary those raises are.
But unlike previous demonstrations, this walkout was expected to affect hundreds of thousands of students for an unforeseen amount of time. Dozens of school districts have announced that they would close for the event.
Here is a look at what was expected to happen and how we got here.
How did the demonstrations begin?
The momentum that launched the force that eventually led to a walkout began in a state on the other side of the country.
Teachers in West Virginia were given a 5 percent raise after they led a nine-day walkout that closed schools between February and March.
Since then, the movement has also spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky and most recently Colorado.
What are teachers asking for?
Educators have been calling on Gov. Doug Ducey and other lawmakers to increase their pay by 20 percent, increase the pay of school staff and improve school conditions.
In response, Ducey has introduced a proposal that, if approved by the Legislature, would raise teacher pay by 20 percent over the next two years.
It would also pledge $371 million in district assistance to provide flexible funding for schools to use on improvement projects.
But educators have expressed discontent with the governor’s plan, saying it does not meet their demands or provide funding for support staff.
In response, 78 percent of 57,000 teachers voted to strike starting on Thursday. There was no end date in sight.
How have lawmakers responded?
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have spoken out about the walkout.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas called the planned teacher walkout illegal and warned teachers that they would be taking a risk by walking off the job.
“I’m only going to tell them the truth. … It is illegal to strike in Arizona, and by every definition I’ve read, this is a strike,” Douglas told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes.
State Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott) said he will propose a temporary one-cent sales tax. The money created from that would go solely to education.
“We need to do that if we’re serious about taking care of our kids and giving them the best education we possibly can,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs raised concerns about a sales tax increase, pointing to rural towns that already have 10 percent sales tax rates.
“Another increase would unfairly put the burden on the poor and working class, who pay an inordinately larger share of their income on sales tax.”
State Sen. John Kavanagh suggested that leaders of the Arizona protests were playing politics and expressed frustration about the planned walkouts during an interview with KTAR 92.3 FM’s Mac and Gaydos.
“They made an outrageous request, and I think because politics is a big part of what they are doing, they wanted to not have a deal so that they could beat up on Republicans and advance these Democrats in the elections, and I guess the governor totally threw them for a loop when he said OK to the pay raise,” said Kavanagh, the senate president pro tempore.
Arizona Rep. Kelly Townsend said she was consulting with attorneys for a potential class-action lawsuit by those who suffer financial or occupational harm because of the planned teacher walkout.
“I’m not looking to go find teachers to sue,” Townsend told KTAR 92.3 FM’s Bruce St James and Pamela Hughes.
“I do support teachers, and I’m working really hard to find a funding source — a dedicated funding source — to help pay for their raise.
“I’m not out to get teachers. But I’m also here to protect people if they are harmed by this action.”
State Sen. Steve Farley, a Democrat from Tucson, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac and Gaydos that lawmakers do not have the votes to pass Ducey’s proposal.
“I’ve seen 12 years of votes during my time in Legislature,” Farley said. “If they had the votes, they would go to the floor and it’s done in three days.
“We didn’t see any budget there today, they don’t have the votes.”
Which school districts will be closed during the walkout?
Several of the state’s biggest school districts confirmed that its campuses would be closed during the walkout.
Those districts included Phoenix Elementary School District, Tucson Unified and Mesa Public Schools.
Keep track with the latest news regarding school district closures here.
How are other organizations responding to the walkout?
Thousands of students depend on the state’s public school system for education, quality meals and day care facilities.
But many groups, organizations and school districts have offered some services for children affected by the walkout and subsequent school closures.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said the city’s recreation centers would be extending its hours on Thursday and Friday to “provide a safe place” for children between the ages of 6 and 17.
St. Mary’s Food Bank planned to increase meal production for families in need during the walkout.
The organization will boost production by 25 percent and continue to operate more than 100 of its 150 meal sites not located at schools to feed those who rely on after-school programs for meals.
Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix will open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. starting Thursday.
The Children’s Museum of Phoenix will also be open to children effected by the walkouts. The museum announced they would offer reduced admission rates and day camps for children between the age of five and eight.
Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park in Litchfield Park and the Phoenix Zoo will also offer free admission for children with every adult admission on Thursday and Friday to support students during the walkout.
Despite announcing their schools would be closed, the Scottsdale Unified School District, Madison School District and Cave Creek Unified School District all had plans to feed students who rely on meal-assistance programs.
Follow the latest news regarding the groups and organizations that will be offering assistance to those affected by the walkouts here.
KTAR News’ Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.