20,000 North Carolina Teachers Walk Out, Demanding More Resources and Better Pay

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Ilana Novick.

Twenty thousand teachers staged a school walkout in North Carolina on Wednesday, demanding better salaries and more money for education. Forty school districts canceled classes in what The New York Times reports is the first walkout for teachers in the state.

North Carolina, as The Guardian reports, “stood 39th nationwide in terms of public school teacher pay in 2017 and teachers’ wages have fallen by 9.4% in real terms over the last decade. Over the same period, spending on public schools here has dropped by 8%.”

Both the low pay and the lack of resources have taken a toll on teachers’ morale. “I have to work other jobs,” Kaitlyn Davis, 26, a fourth-grade teacher, told The Guardian. “And it’s not fair because it takes away from the energy that I have to put into teaching.”

North Carolina is the sixth state where teachers have staged walkouts, if not full-fledged strikes, in 2018. Starting with West Virginia, the strikes have been concentrated in red and purple states, particularly those states with years of both state budget and tax cuts that have decimated funding for education, not to mention teacher pay, health care, and retirement benefits.

As in the other striking states, teachers swarmed both the state capital and their own towns, wearing red (#redfored is a common Twitter hashtag and rallying cry), and attempting to grab the attention of state legislators.

North Carolina teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation since the 2008 recession, falling, according to the National Education Association, by an average of 4 percent. The drop in salaries in other states that have seen walkouts is even steeper.

Previous teacher protests have helped galvanize the labor movement in the states involved, even in those that have adopted anti-union right-to-work laws. Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona won pay raises. Even if North Carolina teachers don’t win similar gains immediately, it gives both North Carolina unions and its Democrats a popular issue to organize around for the upcoming statewide midterm elections.

As the Guardian notes, “The Democratic party in North Carolina hopes that running on raising teacher pay will help take back the North Carolina general assembly in November.”

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Meet the Teacher of the Year the White House Doesn’t Want You to Hear

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan.

In the midst of thousands of teachers walking out of schools around the country, demanding fair salaries and proper funding for their classrooms, one teacher, Mandy Manning, was invited into the White House last week, where President Donald Trump presented her with the 2018 Teacher of the Year Award. While the press heard Trump’s remarks, they were not allowed to witness her acceptance speech. The little we know about what transpired is thanks to one of Manning’s friends, who made a cellphone recording of her speech. In his remarks, Trump failed to mention that Manning teaches math and English to refugee and immigrant students at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington. If he had his way, many students like hers would be banned from entering the United States in the first place.

“I am honored and humbled to be the vehicle through which my students may tell their stories,” Manning said in the historic East Room, as billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta looked on. “I am here for David, a future IT specialist who hopes to one day be able to attend university. I am here for Tamara, who is currently studying pre-med at Eastern Washington University. I am here for Safa and Tara, both future elementary school teachers. I am here for Solomon and Gafishi, who believe that the United States is the place where they have found the center of their lives, where they can have dreams and hopes to be someone.”

These are the words that the White House didn’t want broadcast. We don’t know why the press wasn’t allowed to be in the room. Perhaps they didn’t want reporters to see the six buttons Mandy Manning was prominently wearing on her dress. Her buttons included artwork from the 2017 Women’s March, a rainbow flag and the slogan “Trans Equality Now!” One displayed the quote “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Manning brought letters from her students, addressed to Trump. “I had my opportunity to hand the letters to the president from my students,” Mandy Manning told us on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. “I also asked him if he would be willing to come to Spokane and meet my immigrant and refugee students, to see how amazing, dedicated, focused and what productive members of our community they are as future citizens of our United States.”

She read one of the letters on “Democracy Now!”: “Dear President Trump, My name is Yusif, and I am from Iraq. In January 2017, you won the presidency. I should have arrived in the U.S.A.; however, because you signed the immigration ban, I had to wait until March. My mother was already here in Spokane, Washington, and I had not seen her in four years … if you want to learn more about me and my mom’s story, you can watch our video on YouTube. Search ‘Maha Al’Majidi’ and click on the video called ‘Iraqi refugee reunites with her son.’ Sincerely, Yusif.”

Trump reportedly remarked in the Oval Office last January, “Why are we having all these people from sh**hole countries come here?” Mandy Manning’s students are examples of exactly why: “All of the students who come through my classroom have three things in common: They are just learning English. They have escaped trauma to find new lives in our nation, and they are focused and determined to be productive citizens of our United States. And most importantly, they succeed,” she told us.

It isn’t the White House that chooses Teacher of the Year, but the nonprofit, nonpartisan Council of Chief State School Officers. As she ended her speech, Manning said: “Over the next year, I will be sharing my students’ stories and profound insights into our country throughout the nation. I am here for refugee and immigrant students, for the kids in the gay-straight alliance, and for all the girls I’ve coached over the years, to send them the message that they are wanted, they are loved, they are enough, and they matter.”

In this era of border walls and refugee bans, and a rolling rebellion of teachers from coast to coast, all of us are fortunate to have a champion like Mandy Manning, advocating for students from our country’s most vulnerable populations. The White House may not have wanted the media to hear Manning deliver her speech, but let’s hope President Trump turns off the TV, takes a break from tweeting and reads the letters she delivered to him.

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Arizona Teachers Vow to End Strike If Funding Plan Passes

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by BOB CHRISTIE and MELISSA DANIELS / The Associated Press.

PHOENIX — Arizona teachers said they will end a historic statewide strike Thursday that shut down schools for days if lawmakers pass a plan that offers big raises and increased school funding but that still falls short of their demands.

Organizers made the announcement Tuesday after educators statewide walked off the job last week and closed schools to demand higher pay and more education spending. The Arizona action followed a teacher uprising that started in other parts of the U.S. and was punctuated by a march of tens of thousands of red-clad supporters.

Those mobilizing teachers criticized a Republican-led funding plan but said it was time to go back to work.

“Our fight is not over, we have options,” said Rebecca Garelli, a teacher and strike organizer. “But it is time for us to get back to our students and get back into our classrooms.”

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and GOP legislative leaders have agreed on a state budget proposal that could be passed into law this week but doesn’t increase classroom resources as much as educators sought.

The plan moving through the Republican-led Legislature gives teachers a 10 percent raise next year and starts restoring some of the nearly $400 million in cuts to a fund that pays for supplies, repairs and some support staff salaries. It is expected to pass Wednesday, setting the stage for the walkout to end.

The governor has promised to bump teacher pay 20 percent by 2020 and restore payments to that fund to pre-recession levels in five years. Ducey had resisted giving teachers more than a 1 percent raise that he promised in January until teachers neared a strike vote. Then he came up with a new spending plan.

“We’re glad the strike is coming to an end. We’ve been working exceptionally hard to pass this budget and get this money to teachers,” Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. “While our students head back to the classroom, we hope our teachers will head back knowing we have worked very hard to take a major step toward rewarding them for their invaluable work.”

An Arizona grass-roots group that launched in early March after West Virginia teachers won a 5 percent raise said they would not let off the pressure, despite the decision to go back to work. Before teachers return to school Thursday, they will hold walk-ins, dressing in red T-shirts and standing in solidarity.

After that, the long game is to push for a ballot initiative that creates new funding streams for education and to elect policymakers who support increasing school funding, said Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, the largest teacher membership group.

“We have so many people now that are paying attention to what’s going on, they will never turn away from this fight now,” he said. “They understand that there are people down here who do not care as much about students as they care.”

The walkout began last Thursday, shutting down most public schools. Two-thirds of Arizona’s student population was still out of school through Tuesday, and some districts were expected to stay closed Wednesday.

Teachers have packed raucous rallies at the state Capitol for days, while others have helped care for students and tried to maintain community support.

Organizers urged teachers to hold community events, with some talking to parents over coffee and others crowding street corners in red shirts.

Gladys Garcia said many of her students rely on free or reduced price meals at Challenger Middle School in Tucson and she organized with colleagues to collect food to hand out at a public library.

“It’s our way to let the kids know, ‘We’re actively trying to do something for you, please don’t feel like we’re turning our backs on you,'” the first-year teacher said.

Many community members supported teachers’ efforts, but pressure was increasing on some parents and school administrators.

Gabriel Trujillo, superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District, the second-largest in the state, said he didn’t support the walkout because it takes teachers out of classrooms. He said he does back the objectives of the so-called #RedforEd movement, with his schools facing a host of funding needs.

But Trujillo was concerned teachers would lose public support if the strike dragged on. He said when he called off school for the fourth day in a row, he received more “angry communications” from parents than he had last week.

“I felt like the energy on Thursday was palpable,” Trujillo said of the launch of the walkout. “Now that we’re into day four, I think that’s on the line.”

Organizers seemed to acknowledge the strain but reasserted what the walkout was about.

“Our greatest victory is the powerful movement we have created, which we are going to continue on behalf of our students, because this movement has always been about our students,” Garelli said.

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The Last Legislative Roundup: Rules of debate, four-year terms, ticket surcharges

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News.

Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News

PHOENIX –This week was dominated by Thursday’s teacher walkout, the dismissal of a lawsuit over college tuition increases as well as the narrow special election for Congressional District Eight.

This will be the last Legislative Roundup for this session, as the Legislature has no definite end in sight and will likely run far past the University of Arizona’s Spring semester.

#RedforEd March on the Capitol

More than 50,000 people descended on the Capitol and Governmental Mall Thursday in support of the #RedforEd movement, blanketing the seat of state government with a sea of red shirts and creative posters. The demonstration takes place on the day of the planned teacher walkout organized last week.

Protesters filled Washington Street for the march to the Arizona State Capitol on April 26th, 2018. The protest was visible from the 7th floor of the Executive Tower. (Photo by: Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News)

Despite temperatures in the 90s, supporters of all ages gathered to chant and listen to speakers such as Arizona Education Association president Joe Thomas, who took to the stage to rally the troops.

“The governor thinks he can buy off some of you,” Thomas said.

Gov. Doug Ducey has pledged to raise teacher salaries by 19 percent through the year 2020, on top of the 1 percent raise teachers were already promised. His “20 by 20” plan has met stiff opposition from legislators, with many finding his sources of funding questionablet. Ducey claims that budgetary windfalls will pay for the salary increases without needing to secure additional funding through a tax increase — Ducey has campaigned for reelection under a pledge not to raise taxes.

A woman and two young girls walk across 17th Ave on April 26th, 2018. With teachers participating in the walkout, many schools closed across the state. (Photo by: Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News)

The legislators are joined by teachers in general opposition to the governor’s plan, but for additional, different reasons. The walkout and subsequent demonstration have more to do than just salaries.

“They think Red for Ed is simply about a teacher raise,” Thomas said. “That’s just one piece of the puzzle.”

The group organizing the #RedforEd movement, Arizona Educators United, lists more than just teacher raises in its demands. Aside from what has already been promised, the group is asking for wage increases for support staff, a return in school funding to 2008 levels and a freeze on tax cuts until per-pupil spending reaches the national average.

It is unclear whether or the walkout will continue through next week, although schools and districts are anticipating being closed on Friday.

Click here for a gallery of other images from the rally.

 

Lawsuit Lacks Authority

A lawsuit filed by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich against the Arizona Board of Regents over tuition increases has been dismissed by the judge overseeing the case. Judge Connie Contes tossed out the suit on a motion filed by ABOR that claimed Brnovich lacked the grounds to sue. Without statutory authority or the permission of the governor, Brnovich’s suit was found to be impermissible.

The suit was centered on a vaguely-worded section of the Arizona Constitution that asserts education be offered “as free as possible.” Brnovich found the tuition hikes and numerous fees charged to Arizona college students violated that directive.

CD8 Stays Republican

The special election for Congressional District 8 ended this week with Republican Debbie Lesko beating out Democrat challenger Hiral Tipirneni by roughly fiver percentage points. This was a significant race for a couple of reasons — this seat has been a Republican stronghold for decades, and was vacated by Rep. Trent Franks last winter over allegations of sexual harassment.

Lesko, a former state senator, was no stranger to the area as she had represented much of CD8 at the state level. Tipirneni is a medical doctor and a political neophyte — despite mounting the closest race the district had seen in recent memory.

Lesko will finish out Franks’ term and will therefore be up for reelection in November. Both Lesko and Tipirneni have indicated that they will run again for the congressional seat, for a full two-year term.

Otherwise, here is what happened in the Legislature this week:

Layers of Appeals

The House met on Wednesday for what ostensibly was a short Second Reading of Bills, with just one on the calendar — however things quickly spiraled out of control when Rep. Reginald Bolding (D-Phoenix) stood for a floor speech. He referenced this session’s spate of Rule 19A violations, which have previously been cause for considerable consternation in the past.

The rule in question states that “No member shall be permitted to indulge in personalities, use language personally offensive, arraign motives of members, charge deliberate misrepresentation or use language tending to hold a member of the House or Senate up to contempt.”

Rep. Bolding was speaking about an op-ed penned by Rep. Maria Syms (R-Paradise Valley) which claimed that the #RedforEd campaign was not actually nonpartisan. Specifically, Syms described the leader of the moment as someone who had played rap music in his classroom that contained racial slurs, which she quoted in her opinion piece.

Bolding claimed that Syms had impugned an educator through her op-ed, for which he was called out according to the very same rule he had mentioned at the start of his speech.

“When the gavel is run, you stop,” Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge), the Speaker Pro-Tem, said. “You have violated rule 19A.”

Bolding appealed the decision, which called for a round of voting whether to retain the decision of the chair. After several off-mike conversations, legislators began voting and weighing in on the issue.

“Just because you’re offended by something doesn’t mean they are impugning someone,” Rep. Kelly Townshend (R-Mesa) said.

However, Rep. Gerae Peten (D-Phoenix) didn’t feel the same way. According to Peten, the Syms article was a subtle attack on all members of the African-American community.

“The article had a thematic thread that impugned the African-American people,”  Peten said.

Rep. John Allen (R-Lake Havasu City) was quick to invoke Rule 19A in enforcing decorum on the floor. (Photo by: Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News)

Peten then was called out by Rep. John Allen (R-Lake Havasu City) for Rule 19A, as he claimed that the content of Peten’s speech impugned Syms. Shope found her in violation of the rule, which led to an appeal requiring a roll call vote recorded on paper. The electronic system was in use on the previous vote which had not yet finished.

“I don’t know how we can get out of this circle of name calling, without taking what a person is trying to say and weighing it against the rules,” Allen said.

The vote on Peten’s appeal ended 21-34, meaning Shope’s decision was upheld. That meant that the Legislature went back to the electronic board and the vote on whether or not Bolding could continue with his own speech, which was at that point an hour past.

“As members of the House of Representatives we are held to a higher standard,” Bolding said. “The fact of the matter is this: it is never okay to use a racial slur toward any group in quotes or repeated at any point in time. The fact that we are having this debate, on whether or not a word was used in parentheses or not, is unbecoming of this House and is offensive.”

With just one more person voting, the House stood at 22-34 against allowing Bolding to continue. He was at that point instructed to sit down. With no further business, Allen called to adjourn, ending a day on the House floor at three that was in all likelihood set to finish five minutes after it started at 1:15 that afternoon.

“I think it’s a sad day on both sides of the aisle,” Rep. Ray Martinez (R-Phoenix) said.

Going for Four

A House Resolution to extend legislators’ term in office from two years to four has been resurrected and advanced one step closer to being printed on the November ballot. The Senate voted in favor of HCR 2006, which has so far had a fairly tumultuous time in the Legislature this session. The perennial debate over term limits died earlier this year, when the House voted 25-34 to fail the resolution — though Rep. Anthony Kern (R-Glendale) moved to reconsider the resolution, which lead to it passing the House floor with a vote of 33-22.

“Last year we passed this same measure out of here successfully, but it failed in the House,” Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) said.

The resolution would extend the term of office for both the House and Senate from two years to four years, starting in 2021. The term limits — two consecutive terms in each chamber — will remain. However, legislators who started service in 2015 are permitted another term in 2021, while those who started in 2017 and 2019 are permitted one and two extra terms, respectively.

As a resolution, this piece of legislation will be decided by the voters, not elected officials. Come November, voters can expect to see the resolution on the ballot. If it passes there, legislators will begin serving their four-year terms in 2021.

Surcharges for Police Stuff

The Senate voted 16-13 on Tuesday to advance a bill that would increase the surcharge placed on traffic diversion programs as a means of funding peace office equipment procurement. House Bill 2527 was introduced by Rep. Todd Clodfelter (R-Tucson) originally to add a question to driver’s tests that would ensure future drivers would know to pull over to the right-hand side of the road when dealing with police.

However, that was changed with a “Strike Everything” amendment in the Senate Commerce and Public Safety Committee that rendered the bill in its current form. If passed, the bill would amend the current traffic school fee surcharge from $5 to $9, with that increase going to a newly established Peace Officer Training Equipment Fund.

“A few years ago we passed a bill that would fund these virtual training machines,” Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) said on the Senate floor. “Well guess where the machine for my county is sitting? In a box.”

Allen voted against the bill, citing the need to shrink government, rather than grow it. According to her, the numerous small fees and surcharges add up to ballooning waste, even if they were added for well-meaning projects.

A floor amendment from Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) further modified this bill, key points being the permitting of the courts to mitigate the new increase if deemed necessary as well as allowing someone to pull over at a location the driver believes is safe and in a populated, public area.

The bill will now go back to the House to be found in concurrence, due to the differences between the House and new Senate versions. If the House agrees with the Senate changes, the bill will go before the governor.

Erik Kolsrud is the Don Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at ekolsrud@email.arizona.edu.

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Thousands of Teachers in Arizona, Colorado to Protest

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by MELISSA DANIELS / The Associated Press.

PHOENIX — A wave of red-clad teachers will crash upon the Arizona state Capitol on Thursday for an unprecedented job action that will close schools for a majority of the state’s public school students, part of an educator uprising that’s also bubbled up in Colorado.

Around 30,000 to 50,000 teachers and their supporters are expected to march through Phoenix to rally at the Arizona state Capitol to demand a 20 percent raise for teachers, about $1 billion to return school funding to pre-Great Recession levels and increased pay for support staff, among other things.

In Colorado, more than 10,000 teachers are expected to demonstrate in Denver as part of a burgeoning teacher uprising. About half of the student population will have shuttered schools as a result, with teachers using personal leave time to take off.

The walkouts are the climax of an uprising that began weeks ago with the grass-roots #RedforEd movement that spread from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Colorado lawmakers from both parties have agreed to give schools their largest budget increase since the Great Recession. But teachers say that the state has a long way to go to make up for ground lost during the recession and before that due to the state’s strict tax and spending limits.

Arizona Education Association president Joe Thomas said that tomorrow’s march to the Capitol is necessary after attempts at outreach have been ignored. There’s no end date for the walkout and he said educators may have to consider a ballot initiative for education funding if lawmakers do not come up with a plan on their own.

“How it ends is up to the governor and up to those legislative leaders,” Thomas said. “If they’re courageous, if they have the political capital to come down and speak with us, we all get a win.”

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has laid out a plan for a 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020, but organizers of the so-called #RedforEd movement say his plan relies on rosy revenue projections and doesn’t address the other issues.

Districts around the state have said they will close as a result of the walkout. More than 840,000 Arizona students are expected to be out of school on Thursday, according to an analysis from the Arizona Republic that tallied up at least 100 school districts and charter schools are closing. The state Department of Education said the state has more than 200 districts and more than 1.1 million school children.

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AP writers Colleen Slevin in Denver and Felicia Fonesca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.

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