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Arizona teachers demanding raise protesting at schools across the state

PHOENIX -- Teachers wearing red shirts, chanting and carrying signs protested outside Arizona schools Wednesday to show solidarity in their demand for higher salaries. "Walk-ins" planned at approximately 1,000 schools statewide are part of a grassroots movement pushing for a 20 percent raise and more than $1 billion in new education funding. 

Arizona's demonstration is part of a wave of educators demanding higher pay that started in West Virginia where teachers successfully won a 5 percent raise after a statewide strike.

Oklahoma teachers have walked out in protest over educating funding, and Kentucky educators called in sick to protest pension reform.

Arizona Educators United has mobilized teachers and supporters across the state through their #RedforEd campaign. In addition to a 20 percent pay bump, they're seeking increased pay for support professionals, a permanent raise structure, and a freeze on corporate tax cuts until per-pupil spending reaches the national average.

Stephanie Terry, a 36-year-old single mother of two and a special education teacher at Fowler Elementary School in Phoenix, said she makes $36,000 annually and lives with her parents.

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"I'm not the only one here struggling at this school," she told fellow teachers during the protest outside the school.

Noah Karvelis, a co-founder of Arizona Educators United, said while the request for raises has received the most attention, teachers are ultimately fighting for their students.

"Our teachers are part of it, but we're having kids learning in abysmal situations - no paper towels in the classrooms, no textbooks in the classroom, no chairs or not enough chairs for kids," he said. "We're essentially throwing away a whole generation of Arizonans and their futures and that's unacceptable."

So far, Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican-controlled legislature haven't budged to the group's demands. The governor has stuck by his proposal for a 1 percent increase this year, while pledging that other fund hikes will come down the road.

A lack of legislative action could trigger a massive job action. On Monday, Arizona Educators United told their 35,000 Facebook members to prepare for a possible walk-out this week that would close schools. It urged members to ensure their students have places to go during the day, and to check that superintendents and school boards are aware of the actions.

According to the Department of Education, teacher pay nationally is 1.6 percent below their average earnings in 1999 and 5 percent lower than their 2009 pay, when adjusted for inflation. The pay discrepancy varies largely from state to state. Teachers in New York earn an average annual salary of more than $79,600, while in South Dakota, teachers earn about $42,700 per year.

The average annual income for Arizona teachers is among the lowest in the nation. Elementary school teachers in the state earned a median wage of $43,280 in 2017. High school teachers earned $46,470, making that the 3rd and 6th lowest in the nation, respectively.

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