#RedForEd: Teachers call in sick over low pay, protest state proposal on tax cuts for wealthy

Teachers from the Pendergast Elementary School District participated in the Red For Ed “sick out,” ditching school to rally at the Arizona State Capitol. School district spokeswoman Nedda Sharfir said an estimated 350 teachers called in sick, leading to the day’s closure of nine schools. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Teachers participating in Red For Ed marched at the Arizona State Capitol chanting, “better pay, so we stay!” (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Stefani Jenkins, a middle-school teacher in the Pendergast Elementary School District, said she was marching at the Red For Ed teacher protest at the Arizona Capitol because she wants better pay. Jenkins said she works two jobs. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Teachers who participated in the Red For Ed march at the Arizona State Capitol laid out backpacks with the names of the 14 students and three teachers killed last month in the Parkland, Florida high school shooting. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Nine out of 12 schools in the Pendergast Elementary School District had to cancel classes Wednesday when teachers called in sick to participate in the Red For Ed march at the state Capitol. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

Teachers at the Red For Ed event celebrate the first “no” vote on a bill giving a tax cut to high-income residents, HB2528, by the Arizona Senate finance committee. Despite the crowd opposition, the bill was passed 4-3. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX 一 More than 350 teachers sick of low pay called in sick Wednesday, shutting down nine Glendale schools and packing a legislative meeting considering further tax cuts to the wealthy.

Instead of heading into their classrooms, Pendergast Elementary School District teachers traveled to the state Capitol, clad in #RedForEd T-shirts.

“Our state doesn’t really support our schools,” said Laura Warwick, a fourth-grade teacher. Instead of a raise this year, she’s receiving a stipend equivalent to a one-month car payment.

“It doesn’t help. That’s not a raise,” Warwick said as she walked with colleagues on the walkway in front of the House and Senate buildings.

“Better pay, so we say,” teachers chanted as they marched around the grounds.

Most of the Glendale’s district’s 12 schools had to be closed for the day, but a spokeswoman said neither the teachers nor the students would be penalized for missing school.

“We do everything we can to support our teachers every single day,” district spokeswoman Nedda Shafir said.

-Cronkite News video by Gabriella Bachara

The protests are among a wave of “Red For Ed” teacher protests across the U.S. Arizona teachers have complained for years about salaries that are among the lowest in the nation, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Teachers in the Pendergast district make $34,000 to $41,000 annually, according to district documents.

Jennifer Martin, a special education teacher, said she sacrificed when she returned to Arizona to be closer to her grandchildren.

“I left the state to move to Idaho because I had a $10,000 pay raise doing the same job,” she said. “I took a large pay decrease to come back. If my grandchildren weren’t here, it wouldn’t have been a logical move. It may not have been a logical move anyway.”

District teachers next year will receive a raise of 2 to 7 percent.

Despite Gov. Doug Ducey’s pledge to support education, several teachers said the state is not doing enough to support them.

Teachers participating in the Red for Ed march at the Capitol attend a meeting of the Arizona Senate finance committee, which was preparing to vote on HB2528, a bill that would give tax cuts on capital gains to people in Arizona that make more than $5 million a year. (Photo by Melina Zuniga/Cronkite News)

A tide of red-shirted teachers flooded into the Arizona Senate as part of the demonstration, to protest a bill being discussed by the Senate finance committee that would lower capital gains taxes for Arizona making more than $500,000 each year.

“Tax cuts are the reason our public schools are starving,” said Stephanie Perra, a lobbyist for the Arizona Education Association. “They’re able to find money for tax cuts, but we’re struggling to find money for schools.”

Lawmakers discussed education funding as they argued for and against the bill.

“There’s nothing more important than educating our young people,” said Sen. Dave Farnsworth, committee chairman. “And teachers make great sacrifices to be there and teach.”

Farnsworth, R-Apache Junction, cast the deciding vote, 4-3, along party lines to approve the measure. It still needs to be heard before the full Senate.

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