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1 year after walkout, Arizona teachers still politically engaged, ready to act

Education supporters rallied in Tucson on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, two days before the anniversary of the start of the 2018 walkout. (Twitter Photo/@investinedaz)

PHOENIX – On April 26, 2018, schools shut down across Arizona as teachers began a walkout in pursuit of higher wages and better classroom conditions.

The work stoppage lasted six days, ending after Gov. Doug Ducey signed a budget as part of his plan to increase teacher wages by 20 percent by the 2020-21 school year.

One year later, the Red for Ed movement isn’t satisfied.

With demands beyond pay raises being ignored by lawmakers, another walkout isn’t out of the question, according to leadership of the state’s largest public school employee professional association.

“I can’t say anything’s off the table,” Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Thursday.

Garcia said she wants members of the Legislature, many of whom campaigned on their support for education, to back up their words with actions and create avenues for sustainable funding improvements.

“That’s their job,” she said. “We’re doing our job in the classrooms. We want them to do their job, and that is [to] find ways to have a great public school here.”

Garcia said increasing teacher pay was one of five demands driving the Red for Ed movement.

“But the other four had a very clear direction to talk about how we fund our schools, and none of that was addressed last year,” she said. “It still hasn’t been addressed this year.”

She said the upkeep of campuses remains lacking, and resources are still insufficient.

“My textbook, I think the last president in there is still, maybe, the second Bush presidency is in there,” said Garcia, who teaches social studies at a Phoenix middle school.

She said pay for support staff also hasn’t been addressed, although some districts elected to use a percentage of the additional state funding to increase wages for employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

“And then we haven’t discussed the fact that our state still has massive tax breaks for corporations and is not doing anything to think about how to pour money into the schools,” she said.

Garcia said she’s been encouraged at how teachers have remained politically engaged since last year’s demonstrations.

“I have seen a lot my colleagues very aware of what’s happening at the Capitol, a lot more interested in what’s happening at governing board meetings,” she said.

“They’re very closely watching bills pass through, where before it almost was like a blank part of their day.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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