Striking teachers commit to return to school Thursday if state budget is passed

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Joe Thomas said the teacher walkout was a success but isn't happy with the state budget. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Joe Thomas said the teacher walkout was a success but isn't happy with the state budget. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Noah Karvelis said the walkout was a success since more money is allocated to education. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Noah Karvelis said the walkout was a success since more money is allocated to education. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Thousands have protested low education funding in Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Thousands have protested low education funding in Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Organizers of the statewide teacher walkout said they plan to head back to work on Thursday if a state budget is passed, say they have pushed the governor and the state Legislature as far as they can go.

"This movement has brought in a quarter of a billion dollars that no one in January saw would be in the budget so it's a huge success," said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona schools in crisis]

The walkout continued into its fourth day on Tuesday and it appears the final walkout will be on Wednesday.

“But it’s time for us to get back to our students in our classrooms and schools and continue the fight for the additional resources our students need. If lawmakers do their job and get this budget passed by Thursday, then we commit to return to our classrooms by then," said Alhambra elementary teacher Rebecca Garelli, who helped organize Arizona Educators United, the grass-roots group that pushed the Red for Ed movement. 

Organizers said the walkout was a success due to the 150,000 people that hit the streets during the four days in downtown Phoenix and increased amount of money promised for education. The number of people who protested may be up for debate as other agencies have put the numbers closer to 70,000.

[RELATED: Arizona lawmakers move to pass raises for striking teachers]

"Before this movement started, lawmakers wouldn’t renew Prop 301. After we announced the walkout, they renewed it,” said Noah Karvelis, a music teacher and also an AEU organizer.

But it's basically the same budget proposal that Republican Gov. Doug Ducey rolled out two weeks ago, which AEU found wasn't good enough at the time.

State lawmakers are working on the budget that would increase pay for educators by 10 percent next year and make the first payment toward restoring nearly $400 million slashed from school building and maintenance budgets since 2008.

[RELATED: Gov. Doug Ducey releases open letter about education budget]

The teacher raise is half a 20 percent bump that Ducey has promised by 2020 and restore payments to that fund to pre-recession levels in five years.

“We’re glad the strike is coming to an end. We’ve been working exceptionally hard to pass this budget and get this money to teachers,” Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. “While our students head back to the classroom, we hope our teachers will head back knowing we have worked very hard to take a major step toward rewarding them for their invaluable work.”

[RAW VIDEO: Teacher walkout organizers announce they are returning to work]

However, Thomas said he still isn't happy with the proposed budget.

"No one is comfortable with this proposal," said Thomas. "We realized we're not going to get the answers we want out of this Legislature and this governor. We're going to have to make some changes. We're going to have to go to the voters themselves."

He said he wants voters to pass a measure called the Invest in Education Act that would have $750 million for education.

There have been concerns that the education money in the budget won't go specifically for teacher raises and that it'll be up to the districts to decide what to do with the extra cash.

"We'll be in the districts making sure that money goes into education support professional pay, teacher pay and into psychologist pay, and all people that work with our students," Thomas said.

[RELATED: Arizona school districts release plans for teacher walkout]

The walkout launched Thursday, shutting down most public schools. Two-thirds of Arizona’s student population was still out of school through Tuesday, though some districts began opening their doors. Some districts were expected to stay closed Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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