Arizona teachers demand 20 percent raises during statewide protests

Posted: Updated:
Thousands rallied at the state Capitol for better conditions for teachers. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Thousands rallied at the state Capitol for better conditions for teachers. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (AP) -

Thousands of Arizona teachers descended on the state Capitol on Wednesday afternoon for a demonstration where they demanded higher pay and increased funding for public education.

Teachers are demanding a 20 percent salary increase and other hikes in educating funding during a day of action.

[SLIDESHOW: Arizona educators protest for better pay]

The demands were unveiled Wednesday in front of a crowd of thousands of teachers and their supporters. Demands also include competitive pay for education support professionals and a permanent salary structure with annual raises.

Teachers are also demanding the state restore education funding to 2008 levels. Pre-recession funding was $1 billion higher than current figures, according to education funding advocates at AZ Schools Now.

Another demand is a freeze on all tax cuts until per-pupil spending catches up to national levels. A state audit from March 2017 shows that per-pupil spending here averaged $9,136, compared to a national average of almost $12,500.

[PREVIOUS STORY: Arizona teachers to lay out salary demands at state capitol]

Ducey's office released the following statement:

Gov. Ducey believes teachers are the biggest difference-makers out there. They do extraordinary work each day, and they should be valued and rewarded for their hard work. More needs to done, but our state has made progress. School districts have increased their investment in teacher salaries by 9 percent, according to the Arizona School Boards Association. In 2017 we saw an increase of 4.3 percent in average teacher salaries from 2016 to 2017, bringing the average teacher salary in Arizona to $48,372. His 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. We will continue each year to put more resources into K-12 education to better serve our teachers and students. He meets with teachers regularly and wants to continue a dialogue about increasing our investment in Arizona schools and teachers.

Protests were also planned in Tucson and other cities.

Kelley Fisher, who has been teaching for 20 years and works at the Deer Valley Unified School District, spent the early part of the Capitol demonstration handing out spare posters and stickers. She said education funding should be increased so educators don't have to take multiple jobs.

[RELATED: Arizona teachers organizing to fight for better pay]

"I really feel like everyone has been pushed to the brink at this point, and if we're going to make a move, this is when it's going to be," she said.

Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. Adjusted for local cost of living, federal figures show elementary teachers in Arizona rank 50th in earnings nationally and high school teachers rank 49th.

[RELATED: Arizona teachers to lay out salary demands at state capitol]

The Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association issued a report in December that described a "severe" teacher shortage, with nearly 2,000 vacant positions statewide.

The demonstrators all mostly wore red. The signature color of the #RedforEd campaign started after a teacher strike in West Virginia wound up securing a pay raise. Many toted signs and donned stickers that read "I don't want to strike, but I will."

[RELATED: After Gov. Ducey signs tax extension, teachers say it's not enough]

Areyell Williams, a first-grade teacher in the Creighton School District, held a sign that read "How can we get students ahead if we leave teachers behind?" She said she's dismayed that with a master's degree, she still has to coach sports and work other jobs to make ends meet.

[RELATED: Arizona teachers protest low pay at state Capitol]

Low pay and large classes are pushing teachers away from the profession, Williams said. But she wants to stay in it for the long-term.

[RELATED: Hundreds protest low teacher pay at Phoenix radio station]

"I hate that I love it so much," she said. "Your heart won't let you walk away."

[RELATED: Gov. Ducey speaks about his 'Safe Arizona Schools' plan while teachers plan walk-outs]

National Education Association data shows Arizona teachers are paid around $47,000 annually, compared to a national average of about $58,000.

Arizona Educators United has held Capitol protests since early March. A sickout last week by Pendergast Elementary School District teachers shuttered most schools in the west Phoenix and Glendale districts.

[READ MORE: Phoenix-area parents left to scramble for child care following teacher walkout]

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

© 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.