Arizona Legislature OKs budget, to push to adjourn session

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The Arizona Legislature approved a $10.4 billion budget bill early Thursday and Gov. Doug Ducey quickly signed a school measure, effectively ending a week of teacher walkouts over low pay and inadequate education funding.

The new law also increases funding for support staff, new textbooks, upgraded technology and infrastructure, which will help make up for recession-era cuts.

With the passing of the education budget, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said she commends the governor and legislature for "working hard under difficult circumstances".

But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, chided Democrats for complaining now that a 19 percent increase it too little even as they pushed a year ago, albeit unsuccessfully, for a 4 percent hike.

The action came after a weeklong teachers' strike that shut down classes for the majority of the state's 1.1 million public school students.

Their demand for a 20 percent raise was only met in a partial sense.

Doug Ducey (R) offered organizers a 20 percent pay increase for state teachers by 2020, but teachers participating in the walkout have said it is not enough.

He was among thousands of #RedforEd movement educators at the Capitol on Wednesday. But at the same time, teachers spoke of the walkout as a small step in the right direction, describing it as a victorious battle in a wider war. We will return to our schools, classrooms, and students knowing that we have achieved something truly historic. Teachers in those districts would still get raises, but they would be roughly 15.6 percent instead of the full 20 percent.

Phoenix fifth-grade teacher Peggy Parker says the budget fails to address a lack of overtime compensation and money for classroom supplies.

On the revenue side of the equation, Republicans spurned several proposals to raise more money to ensure that there will not only be the dollars for future promised teacher pay raises but to finance some of the other priorities and restore per-student funding back to at least 2008 levels.

"We have an incredible infrastructure and movement built", he said. "And that is going to be seen in your school, you're going to feel that walking around the hallway".

But as of early Wednesday evening, state legislators had failed to pass it.

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Some #RedForEd supporters felt that AEU was walking away too soon from the budget negotiation.

Cathy Field, who teaches in the Cartwright District in Phoenix said, "The budget cuts are all I've ever known since I moved here from MI".

"So I want the Arizona voters to know and to remember who defended the teachers in November", Kern said. "No one was talking about this - nobody".

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma sought to expand the definition of "teachers" - those eligible for the pay hike - to include counselors, social workers, psychologists, speech pathologists and librarians, all people excluded from getting a share of the earmarked raises.

"Not only is school not fun anymore, but it's scary", she said.

On Thursday, not long before the signing took place, teachers in Arizona cancelled classes. "But we understand that this didn't get this way overnight, and it probably isn't going to be solved overnight".

The state's largest district in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, as well as districts in the suburbs of Scottsdale and Glendale, planned to reopen Friday.

Sparked from nationwide demonstrations, the walkout began late April with almost 110 districts and charter schools comprised of 852,000 students closed, making it the largest teacher walkout in recent US history. "I love the initiative process but I wish we didn't have to rely on it. That's what we left for", Kelley Fisher told Phoenix New Times.

Most of the statements being handed down from the union have been delivered by Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association (AEA). And she lashed out at teachers who were in the gallery - teachers presumably on strike - who were watching the debate.

But some teachers lamented that some "pro-education" amendments they fought for were struck down, such as one that would reduce class sizes.

"The people down here, a lot of them, don't listen to our voices", said Noah Karvelis. "We will absolutely pull everybody back out and bring them back down here". "The change happens with us!"