Arizona public school teachers will walk out of their classrooms Thursday, making them the fourth red state workforce to do so in two months, as educators protest years of tightened funding and tax cuts.
More than 840,000 students will not have school Thursday as districts shut down more than 1,000 schools.
As in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, the workers are calling for pay raises for teachers and support staff — and increased spending for each student, to cover supplies like new textbooks and desks.
The teachers have seen mixed results from the nationwide strikes — West Virginia's was largely successful, garnering a 5% raise for teachers, while many of Oklahoma's teachers were dissatisfied with the changes enacted.
Arizona's teachers will head to the capitol in Phoenix on Thursday. As in states that struck first, they're sharing images and stories of the consequences of austerity funding on their classrooms: decades-old textbooks, broken desks, and shoddy infrastructure.
Public school teachers in these states say they buy routine items — like copy paper and toilet paper — out of their own pockets, and that years of funding cuts to maintenance budgets have led to rats, termites, ants, mold, and decrepit conditions that endanger students. Kids improvise their own athletic supplies and art teachers get creative to come up with materials.
Below are photographs and explanations from teachers and support staff in Arizona showing why they will walk out Thursday.
Amy Nugent, from a school district in Phoenix: "Rat that fits inside a shoebox. My kids have no supplies ... I purchase most of my curriculum ... The list is too large to type. Broken desks, torn carpet, walls not painted in many years. That barely scratches the surface, and that is not an understatement."
Amber Pope, Washington Elementary School District: "I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to stomp on a cockroach crawling across my classroom."
Michelle Wyatt Brown, Kyrene School District: "We have roaches and scorpions."
Brandy Lea, Deer Valley Unified School District: "Termites ate through hundreds of dollars of books I purchased with my own money."
Stephany Sessions Durtsche, Glendale Elementary School District: "This is the condition of textbooks I was given at the beginning of the year."
Lupita Almanza, Tucson Unified School District: "When I first started teaching eight years ago, I spent half of my paycheck buying copy paper, pencils (so many pencils), notebooks, etc. I was single and split all my utilities and rent.
Now I have a 6-year-old, car payment, school loans, plus my utilities and rent to pay, and I just can’t invest in my classroom like I used to.
I’ve spent at least $1,000 in my classroom library, depending on the year, $100-plus a year in teacher websites, purchasing activities and materials, $50 to $200 in supplies, bulletin board materials, incentives, snacks, and tissues (so many tissues)."
Robin Bond, Chino Valley Unified School District: "This is how I control the temperature in my room. If the air is on, it blows like an arctic wind from this vent right on my grandmother helper and the kids. By the way, the globe is as old as me!"
Chris Yetman, Amphitheater Public School District: "This has happened three times in the last five years in my classroom."
Susie Wentworth, Litchfield Elementary School District: "Brought in my own card table from home because I didn't have enough desks for my students."
Stephanie Greene-Hunley, Tucson Unified Elementary School District: "Leaks in roof."
Laura Pederson, Payson Unified School District: "Our 'it's-not-mold' wall."
Kathleen Hansen Warren, Isaac Elementary School District: "This leaking fire sprinkler. I also have roach hotels and vents that leak."
Terri Mickelson, Alhambra Elementary School District: "Art teachers come up with creative 'paper' options."
Brandy Cooke, Mesa Public School District: "This lab station's out of order because it's falling apart."
Anthony Estrada, Phoenix Elementary School District: "Not a tether-ball. A cone attached to a rope and tether-ball rules."
The teachers walking out Thursday are not members of a single union and have instead organized mainly on social media and in person.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey had tried to prevent the picketing earlier this month by promising teachers a 20% pay increase by 2020 — but teachers said they did not trust him to implement the raise and that he failed to address their other demands.
Both teachers and school support personnel voted in favor of the walkout last Thursday, with 78% of those who cast ballots supporting the action, according to the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest such union, and Arizona Educators United, a Facebook group of tens of thousands that has been instrumental in organizing the protests.
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said that educators were inspired by teachers who walked out in the other states. Signs in Oklahoma and Kentucky had similarly thanked West Virginia for taking action first, sparking their own decisions to walk out.
Despite laws in these states weakening unions and barring public workers from striking, the teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma coordinated with superintendents, parents, and communities across the states to close school districts for as long as two weeks while they swarmed their capitol buildings. Some teachers used sick days or snow days to cover the time without fear of retaliation.
In those states, the teachers won raises and millions in new education funding through bills passed by the legislature and signed by their governors, but ultimately did not achieve all their goals. Many in Oklahoma said that the educators union there called off the protest before they had accomplished everything they could.
And in each state, during the walkouts, the teachers packed lunches for students who rely on public school–provided meals and tutored kids on the capitol lawns so they didn’t fall behind in their subjects.