Arizona Teachers 'Walk-In' To Protest Low Pay And Low Funding

Apr 11, 2018
Originally published on April 11, 2018 11:41 am

The teacher protest movement that began in West Virginia in February has spread west to Oklahoma — where teachers are in their second week of walkouts — and now to Arizona.

On Wednesday, Arizona teachers are staging a statewide "walk-in," demanding a boost in pay and more funding for schools overall.

These "walk-ins" are not yet "walk-outs," though organizers have indicated that could be looming possibility. For now, teachers and supporters "walk-in" by coming together in front of schools before class to protest low pay and school funding shortfalls. The group then walks into school together in a show of unity.

The walk-ins are organized by a recently-formed advocacy group, Arizona Educators United.

The social-media based movement grew quickly last month. Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, according to federal data. Average salaries last year were actually $8,000-$9,000 less than 1990 salaries, when adjusted for inflation.

Arizona teachers are demanding a 20 percent raise across the board. Music teacher Noah Karvelis, 23, is one of the organizers.

"The martyrdom is over," Karvelis says. "You see that and you don't have to sit there and take it, you can stand up and make a difference."

Drastic cuts in Arizona's state education funding in the last decade have also left teachers frustrated. Through 2015, Arizona cut more school funding than any other state after the recession; in 2018 funding was nearly 14 percent below what it was in 2008.

Karvelis says his group has put together a negotiating team ready to talk to state leaders about getting more funding and higher salaries.

"We're going to continue to escalate actions," he said. "We need to make a deal here, we need to get our 20 percent."

Lawmakers did give teachers a 1 percent salary increase this year, and Gov. Doug Ducey has promised another 1 percent for the coming school year. However, the governor says he won't increase taxes and says the 20 percent increase teachers are demanding is not likely to happen.

He justified those pay hikes to reporters last month.

"We're definitely trending in the right direction," he said. "I've got a sense of urgency on this."

Organizers of the Arizona teacher movement, like Karvelis, don't think the governor's actions match his words.

"So now we're watching the legislature to see if they'll make any moves because we need a change," Karvelis said. "And if we need to bring that change, if we need to escalate our actions continuously that's what we'll do."

Many schools across Phoenix and the the state had already started holding walk-ins in recent weeks. Last week, two dozen educators at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, Ariz., gathered before school to wave signs as parents dropped their kids off. Desert Ridge Orchestra Director Ajay Patel helped organize his school's walk-in April 4.

"All the teachers here are passionate about what we're doing," Patel says. "So it's really just a matter of getting enough visible action so we can get a good gauge as far as what we can do in the future and that we are unified."

Just over 1,000 schools across Arizona rallying Wednesday, walking into classrooms and not out — yet. For organizers, a strike would be the next step, depending on how much support they see at schools this week.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Oklahoma, teachers are in their second week of walkouts, demanding more funding for schools. In Arizona, teachers are planning a protest called a walk-in. Here's Casey Kuhn from member station KJZZ.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: Funding.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: Now.

CASEY KUHN, BYLINE: Two dozen educators at a high school east of Phoenix gathered before school to wave signs as parents dropped their kids off. This rally came a week before today's state-wide walk-in. These walk-ins are not yet walkouts. Teachers and supporters come together in front of schools to protest low pay and school funding shortfalls, and then walk into school together in a show of unity. Orchestra director Ajay Patel helped organize this school's walk-in.

AJAY PATEL: All the teachers here are passionate about what we're doing. So it's really just a matter of getting enough visible action so that we can get a good gauge as far as what we can do in the future and that we are unified.

KUHN: The walk-ins are organized by a recently formed advocacy group Arizona Educators United. The social media-based movement grew quickly last month. Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, according to federal data. Average salaries last year were actually $8,000 to $9,000 less than 1990 salaries when adjusted for inflation. Now, Arizona teachers are demanding a 20 percent raise across the board. Twenty-three-year-old music teacher Noah Karvelis is one of the organizers.

NOAH KARVELIS: The martyrdom is over, essentially, because you see that and you don't have to just sit there and take it. You can stand up and make a difference.

KUHN: Drastic cuts in state education funding in the last decade here have also left teachers frustrated. Since the Great Recession, Arizona has cut more school funding than any other state. In 2018, funding was nearly 14 percent below what it was in 2008. Karvelis says his group has put together a negotiating team ready to talk to state leaders about getting more funding and higher salaries.

KARVELIS: We're going to continue to escalate actions. We need to make a deal here. We need to get our 20 percent.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting) What's the plan, Ducey, what's the plan?

KUHN: Karvelis announced the demands at a rally last month when thousands of teachers and educators marched on the capitol lawn. Governor Doug Ducey says he won't increase taxes, and he says the 20 percent increase teachers are demanding is not likely to happen. Lawmakers did give teachers a 1 percent increase this year and the governor has promised another 1 percent for the coming school year. A day after the capitol rally, Ducey justified those pay hikes.

DOUG DUCEY: We're definitely trending in the right direction. I've got a sense of urgency on this.

KUHN: Organizers of the Arizona teacher movement, like Karvelis, don't think the governor's actions match his words.

KARVELIS: So now we're watching the legislature to see if they'll make any moves because we need a change, and if we need to bring that change, if we need to escalate our actions continually, that's what we'll do.

KUHN: There are just over a thousand schools across Arizona rallying today, walking into classrooms, not out yet. For organizers, a strike would be the next step, depending on how much support they see at schools today. For NPR News, I'm Casey Kuhn in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.