By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) – Arizona’s governor said on Tuesday that he hoped to sign a budget deal raising teachers’ pay as early as Wednesday, as the latest statewide teacher walkout in the country kept most of Arizona’s 1.1 million students out of class for a fourth day.
The walkout follows similar actions by teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma, which were the first statewide U.S. teacher work stoppages since the 1990s. All four states have Republican governors and legislatures dominated by Republicans.
“We are very close to passing a significant budget investment into K-12 education,” Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said in a letter to teachers released to the public on Tuesday. The deal would increase teachers’ pay 20 percent by 2020 and provide an extra $371 million in school funding over five years.
Teachers have demanded that states reverse salary and funding constraints imposed when tax revenues ran short during the 18-month U.S. recession that ended in June 2009.
Conservative groups such as Phoenix’s Goldwater Institute think-tank have threatened to sue school districts over what it calls an “illegal strike” by public employees who are not allowed to strike under Arizona law.
Red-clad teachers packed the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee room in the state Capitol in Phoenix and registered to address lawmakers when budget negotiations on education funding begin in the early afternoon.
Noah Karvelis, a music teacher and organizer of Arizona Educators United, said the grassroots group was seeing movement on some of its demands.
“We’ll be down there today fighting so we can get the best deal for our students as possible,” Karvelis said by phone.
Educators have also called for higher pay for support staff and a promise that Arizona’s legislators will enact no new tax cuts until the state’s per-student funding level is brought up to the national average. Arizona’s teacher salaries rank among the lowest in the country.
Ducey said his budget proposal would allow school leaders flexibility to spend funds to improve school facilities and increase support staff pay.
(Reporting by David Schwartz; additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; writing by Andrew Hay; editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)