In a press conference late Thursday night, officials announced that teachers across the state of Arizona have voted to strike.
The walkout date is set for April 26, following three days of school “walk-ins” next week. There were about 57,000 votes cast from school employees across the state, and 78 percent voted yes.
The announcement was made by both Arizona Education Association officials and organizers of the teacher-led Facebook group Arizona Educators United, which has about 45,000 members. Social media has been a driving force for this wave of teacher activism in Arizona.
“This is undeniably and clearly a mandate for action,” said Joe Thomas, the president of the state teachers’ union.
He added that educators were demanding action—more school funding and a teacher pay raise—from the state legislature and the governor. Gov. Doug Ducey has said he will urge the state legislature to pass a 20 percent pay raise for teachers. But many educators have remained skeptical of the plan, questioning where the money will come from. The state’s Parent Teacher Association has pulled its support from Ducey’s plan, calling it financially unsustainable.
Noah Karvelis, a music teacher and an organizer of Arizona Educators United, told reporters that he didn’t want to put any limitations on how long the walkout would last.
“We’re truly in a state of crisis right now,” he said, referencing “crumbling public school infrastructure,” broken desks, and outdated textbooks.
The voting took place over three days, after a series of peaceful demonstrations and electrifying protests calling for better pay and more school funding. Arizona teachers, on average, make about $48,000 a year—about $10,000 less than the national average.
Teachers in Oklahoma recently concluded a nine-day walkout, as did West Virginia teachers last month. West Virginia teachers received a 5 percent pay raise after their strike. Oklahoma’s walkout ended on a more mixed note: Teachers received a $6,100 pay raise and some additional funding for schools, but legislators refused to bend to the teachers’ demands in full.
In Arizona, striking is illegal for teachers, according to a 1971 opinion by the state’s attorney general at the time. Teachers could be fired or have their teaching licenses revoked. But according to the Arizona Daily Star, the superintendent of the Tucson Unified district—the largest in the state—said teachers won’t lose their jobs if they strike.
“This is not a confrontation,” Gabriel Trujillo told reporters. “The #RedForEd movement and our teachers have been wonderful. They’ve exhibited great leadership in this movement, and certainly we don’t view any of their actions as anti-Tucson Unified School District.”
Corrected: An earlier version of this story misstated the pay raise West Virginia teachers received after their strike. They received a 5 percent pay raise.
Image: Teachers Cassi Igo and Andrew Brothers cast their ballots on the walkout outside Paseo Verde Elementary School on April 18 in Peoria, Ariz. —Matt York/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.