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Teachers In Arizona And Colorado Walk Out To Protest Working Conditions


Now to Arizona, where tens of thousands of people are marching in downtown Phoenix today as teachers walk out of classrooms and towards the Capitol. They're demanding higher pay and a billion dollars restored to public education funding. From member station KJZZ, Casey Kuhn reports on the largest walkout in state history.

CASEY KUHN, BYLINE: Teachers from across the state, some traveling hours, made their way through the streets with signs and buckets of bottled water in the 90 degree Arizona heat. This movement, dubbed Red for Ed, has been weeks in the making as teachers rallied together at schools demanding more money. Arizona teachers have some of the lowest average salaries in the country, and public funding has been cut more here since the recession than any other state. JessaLynne Chavira teaches at Las Brisas Academy in a rural area outside of Phoenix. She came with her husband, mother-in-law and 2-month-old daughter.

JESSALYNNE CHAVIRA: I am Red for Ed for my daughter and for all of my students who deserve more. We shouldn't have to look into charter or private schools for a quality education. We should be able to look into public schools and say that our kids are getting the best quality education.

KUHN: After other walkouts in Oklahoma and West Virginia, organizers in Arizona and Colorado called walkouts starting today. Most Arizona schools are closed, including the 10 largest districts. Governor Doug Ducey has proposed a 1 percent raise already in the budget. After support swelled for teachers, he came out with a 20 percent pay raise plan by 2020. Teachers rejected the plan, saying it's unsustainable. And that plan does not include support staff like math coach Nivaldo Morales, who works for Phoenix Elementary District.

NIVALDO MORALES: Eventually I'm affecting hundreds of students. I'm in the classroom also. Even though I'm affecting hundreds of students, I still don't - get penalized for not being a classroom teacher or having a roster attached to my name. So I think it's very unfair.

KUHN: Morales met his wife Laura at work. She teaches at a Phoenix elementary school and is fighting for both of their pay.

LAURA MORALES: He works just as hard as I do, if not harder at times trying to support all of our teachers and those who want to get better at math and teach math better. And he deserves it just as much as we do.

KUHN: Arizona teachers will continue to rally Friday as schools remain closed, and no end date has been set yet. For NPR News, I'm Casey Kuhn in Phoenix.

(SOUNDBITE OF STROBO'S "AMAZONIA BANG BANG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Casey Kuhn
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