This Thursday, a wave of red-clad teachers in Arizona staged a mass walkout out of schools to protest shrinking education funds.
The walkouts are part of increasing protests nationwide that began with the grassroot movement #RedForEd.
Cathy Nowicki, who teaches math at Kingman Middel School in Arizona, said their school halls are filled with insects and bugs.
“We move through the halls to step on cockroaches, and in the summer we remove caterpillars,” Nowicki said. “Today, we had one classroom that had cockroaches coming from the ceiling, and in another classroom there is a leak coming from the ceiling. How are we supposed to teach our kids in rooms that are like this?”
“One huge impact I’ve noticed is our reading books are destroyed, some ripped in half,” Nichole Soyka, an eighth grade reading teacher, said. She said there are three times more students than books and it’s not possible for her to assign reading assignments as homework because of the shortage.
“I had a student in my homeroom ask me why they aren’t good enough to have real books,” Soyka said. “The budget cuts definitely impact learning for these students. They notice it, since it’s so impossible to hide it from them.”
The Arizona Educators United has announced five major demands, including yearly pay bumps until Arizona reached the national average salary, smaller classes and 20 percent wage hikes for teacher and certified staff in the next school year.
Currently, the national average salary for public school teachers is around $59,000 per year. The protest aims to increase the Arizona’s average salary, which is currently $47,000, to that point, at least.
Gov. Doug Ducey has also proposed 20 percent pay rise to teachers by 2020. However, the protesting teachers say it’s not enough and the proposal is unsustainable. Teachers groups believe the raise would cause more problems for others in the state’s educational system.
“I think our students understand that we need a change and enough is enough,” Noah Karvelis, an organizer of Arizona Educators United, said.
After the Great Recession in 2017, paychecks for most Americans began rising. However, wages for teachers in more than half of the states have continued to fall — and sometimes, quite sharply. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the biggest impact has been borne by teachers in Colorado and Arizona.
Although, the strike on Thursday is the first statewide teachers’ walkout Arizona has ever seen, educators have been organizing marches since the start of April. Strikes have spread across GOP-run states of Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia, where teachers demonstrated across their states’ capitol buildings to protest low school funds, teachers’ salaries and poor working condition.
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