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Republican Arizona teacher running for state Senate seat

(Kristina Kelly)

PHOENIX — When schools closed down for the statewide teacher walkout last month, second-grade teacher Kristina Kelly took her four children to the Arizona Capitol on day one of the six-day work stoppage.

“I thought it was important that they witness democracy in action, as well as history,” she said.

Kelly is one of a few active Arizona teachers running for legislative seats. She’s running as a Republican for state Senate in Legislative District 23, which covers Scottsdale and Fountain Hills.

State Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita is among Kelly’s three primary opponents.

More than 40 former teachers, mostly Democrats, also are running for legislative seats in Arizona.

For most of the educators running, the Red for Ed movement inspired them to try unseating lawmakers they believe are failing to provide adequate funding for public schools.

Kelly said she had already decided to run prior to the walkout. However, she said it inspired her as a teacher and that “we can learn from the Red for Ed movement.”

“None of the teachers wanted to walk out, but they felt they had no other option,” she said. “We need to be willing to solve problems before they get out of control and keep an open dialogue,” she said.

The walkout ended when the Legislature approved Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to give teachers a 20 percent pay raise by 2020, as well as $371 million in flexible spending to public schools over the next five years.

Kelly said the governor’s plan is a “great first step” in providing much-needed funding for public schools.

“But I feel that we can do more,” she said. “I feel that we need to find sustainable funding for education.”

A teacher on and off for several years, Kelly said she has seen the effects of education funding cuts. She said at Scottsdale’s Laguna Elementary School, where she teaches, funding cuts have led to a shortage of counselors, who she said are key to helping students deal with mental health issues.

She said teachers have also had to take on a bigger role in the lives of students.

“You’re not just a teacher, you’re also a counselor and a caregiver,” she said.

In addition to teaching, Kelly operated a small business for seven years and has experience in education policy. She moved to Arizona from California 14 years ago.

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