Some 50,000 Arizona teachers and supporters marched to the state Capitol in Phoenix on Thursday to demand more education funding during a historic statewide strike that closed most of the state’s public schools and built on an educator uprising that bubbled up in other parts of the U.S.
Crowds in red shirts filled the streets from the starting point at downtown Phoenix’s baseball park and broke into chants of “Red for Ed” as they marched en masse to the Capitol.
Many marchers carried #RedforEd signs or posters saying, “Fund our future” and “Ducey, you’re out of your element,” referring to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
Besides a 20 percent raise that Ducey has offered by 2020, teachers want lawmakers to increase school funding and give support staffers higher wages.
“I feel like funding for the schools should be at the top of the list,” said Brandon Hartley, a charter school teacher from Peoria who brought his 7-year-old son to the rally at the Arizona Capitol.
Other parents who brought their children to the Phoenix protest expressed their support despite school closures that led makeshift day care operations to open at schools and recreation centers to help working parents. Food banks and some schools also were providing free meals that many students rely on.
Encouraged by similar protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, organizers said the job action would send a message to state political leaders about their dissatisfaction.
Colorado public school teachers announced a two-day walkout for Thursday and Friday and around 3,000 people marched on the state capitol in Denver to demand additional funding, according to protest organizers.
The vast number of Arizona's more than 200 public school districts with roughly 1.1 million students have canceled classes for Thursday and Friday.
"Today will forever be remembered as the day that Arizona educators, after decades of being ignored, stood up and said ENOUGH," tweeted Noah Karvelis, a music teacher and leader of the grassroots Arizona Educators United, a coalition of teachers and education professionals.
Arizona state schools superintendent Diane Douglas has asked the teachers not to leave their classrooms and allow state leaders to work out a solution. She feared the job action would only hurt students and parents.
The protests in Colorado, where Republicans control the senate but Democrats hold the governor's office and control the lower house, marked a political shift for the teachers' pay movement. Until now, demonstrations have been limited to Republican-controlled states where public sector unions are weak.
The Colorado walkout forced the state's two largest school districts, in Denver and neighboring Jefferson County, to cancel classes. The teachers' union said it expected between 10,000 and 15,000 teachers to descend on the capitol over the two days.
"We welcome teachers to the State Capitol! We are listening – let's work on this together," Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper tweeted.
Colorado is enjoying an economic boom, but teachers say they have to work second jobs and buy school supplies out of their own pockets after a US$6.6 billion cut in funding over the past decade.
Low pay means the state is short 3,000 teachers, according to Kerrie Dallman, head of the Colorado Education Association, a statewide federation of teachers' unions.
"School districts and public school supporters end up begging for the leftover money at the end of every legislative session," said Dallman, whose group organized the march on the capitol.
Sources: Telesur / CBS5.