- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

PHOENIX (AP) - The drumbeat to increase teacher pay and education funding in Arizona continued for the fifth straight week on Wednesday, with a statewide demonstration planned next week.

Communities in Phoenix, Chandler, Gilbert and elsewhere saw teachers, students and supporters march into school for “walk-ins.” They wore red shirts and held protest signs to pledge support for the #RedforEd campaign, which is spearheaded by Arizona Educators United.

A statewide walk-in is planned for April 11. Noah Karvelis, the group’s founder, said Wednesday was a test run that caught on among many districts. An estimated 1,000 schools may participate next week, he said.

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“I think you’re going to really see the community start to give more support for this movement,” he said.

Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. The grassroots campaign to increase teacher pay and education funding sprouted up following a strike in West Virginia that yielded a pay rise. A similar movement in Oklahoma led to a full-blown strike, while teachers in Kentucky took to their Capitol to protest cuts to pensions.

In addition to a 20 percent pay increase, the Arizona teachers’ demands include a $1 billion boost to put education funding at pre-recession levels. An online petition circulated among teachers by Arizona Educators United had around 22,000 signatures in support of the demands as of Wednesday afternoon.

Karvelis said a walk-out is still on the table if lawmakers aren’t responsive.

“We’re not afraid to set a walk-out date,” he said. “We’re considering it very seriously right now.”

In response to the teachers’ demands, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has said he is sticking to planned increases in his current budget proposal, including $34 million for the second year of a teacher raise enacted last year, bringing the total raise to 2 percent.

A 20 percent pay increase would cost about $680 million a year, nearly a 7 percent increase to next year’s $10.1 billion budget plan.

Save Our Schools Arizona, a group which forced a vote on whether to expand the state’s school vouchers program, held a brief demonstration Wednesday at the state Capitol to deliver hundreds of “progress reports” to Ducey and lawmakers. The comments were filled out by protesters at a Capitol rally last week.

“Arizona voters want to invest in public schools,” she said. “They want to be able to pay teachers, they want money flowing into the classroom, and they’re not falling for some of these talking points that say ‘We don’t have the funds, we can’t do it,’” Dawn Penich-Thacker said, a co-founder of Save Our Schools.

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