Oklahoma teachers to strike on Monday; Arizona teachers are considering a strike


In February, West Virginia school teachers organized a spontaneous statewide teacher strike to get the state legislature to move on teacher salary increases and to address their medical insurance plan.

Next up appears to be Oklahoma teachers going out on strike. Oklahoma approves teacher pay increase but union says it’s not enough, walkout still on:

Oklahoma legislators approved a measure including a $6,100 pay raise for teachers on Wednesday, but the state teacher’s union says the bill doesn’t go far enough and plans to walk out Monday.

House Bill 1010XX, which was described as “the largest teacher pay raise in the history of the state” passed both the state House and Senate this week. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said she would sign the bill.

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For weeks, Oklahoma teachers have been considering a walkout over what they say is their breaking point over pay and education funding. The state ranks 49th in the nation in teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association, in a list that includes Washington, D.C. Mississippi and South Dakota rank lower.

Inspired by the West Virginia strike in which teachers demanded and got a pay raise from state leaders earlier this month, similar efforts have taken off in Oklahoma and Arizona.

The Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union that represents nearly 40,000 members and school personnel, called the passage of the bill “a truly historic moment,” but one that remains “incomplete” according to its president Alicia Priest.

Teachers and school staff will walk off their jobs on Monday and descend on the state Capitol, she said in video comments posted on Facebook.

“While this is major progress, this investment alone will not undo a decade of neglect,” she said. “Lawmakers have left funding on the table that could be used immediately to help Oklahoma students.”

“This package doesn’t overcome shortfall caused by four-day weeks, overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need. It’s not enough,” Priest said. “We must continue to push for more annual funding for our schools to reduce class size and restore more of the 28% of funds they cut from education over the last decade.”

The OEA had also called for $10,000 pay raises for teachers over the next three years and $5,000 pay raises for full-time support professionals such as custodians, secretaries, bus drivers and food service workers.

On Wednesday, Arizona’s #RedForEd campaign held a rally at the state capitol and issued its list of demands to the Arizona legislature. Arizona teachers demand 20 percent raises, more money for students:

About 2,500 teachers and their supporters — clad in a sea of red — cheered organizers of the Arizona Educators United grassroots group as they announced their list of demands of Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature at a Wednesday evening rally at the Capitol.

Frustrated and desperate, Arizona educators are demanding 20 percent pay raises to address the state’s teacher crisis and have threatened to take escalated action if state leaders don’t respond with urgency.

The educators said Ducey and state legislators have failed Arizona’s students and teachers by not adequately funding public education.

That’s a massive understatement!

The organizers said they will give the governor and state lawmakers through the end of this legislative session to act on their demands, and said they would go on strike if they did not.

“Governor Ducey, Legislature, the last thing that any of us want to do is go on strike, but if we have to, we will,” said Dylan Wegela, an organizer and teacher in the Cartwright School District.

“Arizona Educators United is prepared to do whatever it takes to reach our demands,” Wegela said. “However, we will do everything in our power to avoid a strike. As educators, we’re willing to put kids first, even when the state won’t.”

Patrick Ptak, spokesman for Ducey, said in a statement Wednesday evening that the governor “believes teachers are the biggest difference-makers out there” and that “more needs to be done, but our state has made progress.”

To paraphrase the Oklahoma Education Association, “While there has been some progress, this investment alone will not undo a decade of neglect” … “Lawmakers have left funding on the table that could be used immediately to help Arizona students.” And they could raise taxes to pay for it but for the ideological extremism of our lawless Tea-Publican legislature and Koch-bot Governor Ducey who ignore their duty under the Arizona Constitution.

“(The governor’s) goal is to pass a budget in the next few weeks that continues to increase our investment in public education, but we won’t stop there,” Ptak said.

It will be a pittance compared to what the schools are actually owed. Arizona Schools Filed Suit Saying State Owes Them Billions of dollars in required capital project funding over the past decade. And just this week, Governor Ducey’s Prop. 123 scam was struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional, for which the state may have to reimburse funds already distributed from the state trust. Prop. 123 ruling gives Gov. Ducey a potential $344 million headache. These same education organizations are leading the opposition to the GOP’s “vouchers on steroids” bill which would privatize public education, in violation of the Arizona Constitution, with Proposition 305: Save Our Schools Arizona referendum of school ‘vouchers on steroids’ qualifies for the 2018 ballot.

Governor Ducey and our lawless Tea-Publican legislature are not serious. Vote them out.

“We will continue each year to put more resources into K-12 education to better serve our teachers and students. (Ducey) meets with teachers regularly and wants to continue a dialogue about increasing our investment in Arizona schools and teachers.”

Yes, be patient for another decade or two. What’s another lost generation or two of Arizona school children?

Yeah, I don’t think so!

Ptak did not directly address any of the teachers’ demands.

I’ll bet he didn’t.

What teachers are demanding

The median pay for Arizona elementary teachers is $42,474, when adjusted for cost of living. A 20 percent increase would amount to $8,495,  for a total of $50,969.

The total price tag for such a raise is unclear. State officials have estimated a 1 percent pay hike for teachers costs about $34 million, meaning a 20 percent raise could cost the state about $680 million.

That increase would still place an Arizona elementary teacher who makes the median salary below the national median of $55,800, as well as below pay medians for neighboring state such as New Mexico ($59,047) and Utah ($54,814).

Some of the demands announced Wednesday overlap. Besides the 20 percent teacher raises, educators’ demands are:

  • Restoring state education funding to 2008 levels. Arizona spends $924 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars today than it did in 2008, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. Restoring education funding to that level would cost the state about $1 billion.
  • Competitive pay for all education support professionals, such as teachers’ aides and paraprofessionals. Dollar figures for this weren’t specified Wednesday.
  • A “permanent” step-and-lane salary structure in which teachers are guaranteed annual raises and steady advancement in wages.
  • No new tax cuts until the state’s per-pupil funding reaches the national average. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 figures, the most recent available, Arizona spent $7,489 per pupil compared with the national average of $11,392.

This month, scores of teachers have publicly — and often spontaneously — protested their low pay and the state’s low education funding as part of Arizona’s #RedForEd movement.

Many teachers have made emotional pleas for the state to address their pay, saying their low salaries have forced them to live with parents, work multiple jobs, hold off on starting families or quit teaching entirely to make ends meet.

Teachers and education advocates have said the pay issue threatens Arizona students’ access to qualified teachers and a quality public education because it’s caused thousands of experienced teachers to leave Arizona’s classrooms.

Organizers told educators and supporters Wednesday that their demands have been long overdue.

They said they hoped the firm and ambitious targeted raise would further mobilize teachers across Arizona for statewide action and galvanize support from parents and their communities.

“We have laid out the facts,” Alexis Aguirre, an elementary teacher in the Osborn School District, told rallygoers Wednesday. “Arizona is last in teacher pay. There are more than 2,000 positions still left unfilled, and the $1 billion funding gap is swirling wider.

“Instead of responding with cooperation and problem solving, we are ignored, dismissed and contradicted. If lawmakers will not stand up for Arizona children, then we will.”

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Increase is necessary, teachers say

The state’s finances reeled from budget deficits following the recession, forcing many school districts to freeze teacher salaries in the years that followed.

Arizona education funding has yet to fully recover.

Median pay for Arizona’s elementary school teachers has dropped by 11 percent since 2001, according to a May 2017 report by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Teachers on social media have blamed their near-stagnant wages on what they say has been the state’s slow response in addressing a statewide crisis.

Several teachers who completed an Arizona Republic online survey first published in June said they’ve worked in the profession for multiple years — some as many as 10 years — and still make less than $40,000 a year.

Much of the public’s response to the wave of activism among teachers this month has been sympathetic.

Still, a majority of the criticism on social media regarding the #RedForEd movement has been lobbed at the perceptions that teachers’ outcry is overblown and that educators knew what they signed up for when they entered a profession known for its low pay.

Teachers have tried to counter that argument, with some sharing their pay stubsshowing the loss in take-home pay following years of little to no growth in salary advancement.

What’s next?

Teacher organizers said they did not expect state leaders to respond to their demands enthusiastically.

The possibility of a work stoppage will depend on how the governor and state legislators respond to their demands for pay and school funding, as well as the level of support among educators, they said.

They said they plan to organize hundreds of teacher “walk-ins” similar to Monday’s Chandler Unified School District rally in the coming days and weeks. The walk-ins will not disrupt school operations.

Since the start, Arizona educators have discussed among themselves the possibility of a statewide walkout or strike.

Teachers’ responses have varied. On social media, many have expressed support or interest; others have raised concerns about how it would affect their jobs and their paychecks. And many others said they would decide once they knew what they’d be asking of state leaders.

Any widespread action needs to be well-thought out, coordinated to include schools across the state and supported by parents and school administrators, organizers said.

Teachers are leading a national movement against GOP austerity budgets in Red state legislatures that decimated public education funding over the past decade in pursuit of tax cuts for corporations and their wealthy plutocrat campaign contributors. #RedForEd is fighting for the children of Arizona who have been neglected by our lawless GOP legislature for far too long.


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