#RedForEd: What’s about to happen when teachers walk out

Arizona educators last week overwhelmingly voted to walk out to demand higher pay and more dollars for the classroom. (Photo by Melina Zúñiga/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Tens of thousands of educators will march Thursday from Chase Field to the Capitol to demand higher teacher pay and more classroom funding as part of the Red for Ed movement, in a historic walkout across the state. Here are the answers to some common questions:

How many people will this walkout affect?

At least 75 percent of Arizona’s 1.1 million schoolchildren are in districts that are shutting down during the walkout. As for teachers, 100,000 of them took part in “walk-in” demonstrations over the past three weeks, and organizers expect about half of them will rally Thursday or Friday at the Capitol.

The walkout is slated to begin Thursday, but organizers have not said when it will end. Thursday is Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day, which is a welcome coincidence for some parents who can take their children to work. But if the walkout continues, many will be forced to use other child-care services.

Has this ever happened before?

This statewide walkout is believed to be unique in the state’s history. But there is plenty of recent precedents across the nation. The Arizona Red for Ed movement is part of a national outcry from teachers and education advocates about low salaries, who have seen success in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma after similar strikes by educators.

Is this a walkout, or a strike?

Effectively, the two words mean the same thing. Although the protest fits all the criteria for a strike (a union group refusing to work until contract dispute negotiations are concluded), Arizona believes teachers do not have the right to strike, according to a 1971 opinion by the Arizona Attorney General.

That opinion has never been legally challenged, so if school districts decide to punish teaches, it could prompt a court battle over whether public employees can strike.

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Teachers could be punished?

Theoretically, each school district can punish teachers who walk off the job. Many have encouraged their employees to use personal time or sick days when protesting.

But legal experts say it’s unlikely for a school district to take disciplinary action over the walkout even if an employee does not use personal time, especially after many school superintendents have voiced support for the movement.

“It depends on what their policy is for time off,” said Jessica Post, director at Fennemore Craig, a Phoenix law firm. “If a teacher has a time-off policy or vacation time, they can use it for anything. If they have time off and they choose to use their time off to do a walkout, then discipline would be much harder.”

When does the walkout end?

Organizers from Arizona Educators United, one of the grassroots organizations behind the walkout, were vague Wednesday when asked how the strike would end. One proposed idea is a vote to end the walkout – similar to the one educators held to gauge support for the action in the first place.

Noah Karvelis, an organizer and history teacher in Tolleson, said a meeting of his group, lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey would be a show of good faith.

“I would love to have those meetings, and I would love to have them with the governor there,” he said. “We’ve seen no movement on that.”

Speaking of the governor, what does he say?

Ahead of the walkout, Ducey has stuck by his plan, a proposed change to the state budget that would give teachers an incremental 20 percent raise by 2020. But educators and advocates say the plan doesn’t go far enough to meet other demands, including higher per-pupil spending and more money for classrooms and support staff, such as counselors and janitors.

Lawmakers also are skeptical of Ducey’s plan, which relies on Arizona’s economy growing by nearly 4 percent every year. Some called the plan optimistic.

The only other proposal on the table is from Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who suggested a plan for a 1 percent sales tax increase, which he said would generate $1 billion annually.

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