The vast majority of people in the U.S. believe that teachers demanding a better pay have a right to strike, according to a latest NPR/Ipsos poll, which showed that only one in four Americans believe the teachers in the country were receiving a fair pay, while two-thirds approved of national teachers' unions,and three-quarters agreeing for the teachers having the right to strike.
Of the three quarters agreeing to teachers' strike, two-thirds were Republicans, three-quarters were independents and nearly 9 in 10 were Democrats, according to the NPR.
"Our teachers have not been able to have raises for the last several years and I'm certain it's the same issue that's going on around the country," Marla Hackett of Queen Creek, Ariz., a survey participant, who stated her daughter is a teacher, told the NPR. "They are underappreciated, underpaid and they work ridiculously long hours."
The news comes at a time when Arizona teachers have announced to lead the first statewide teachers' strike into its third day Monday.
Walkout organizers said that GOP state lawmakers left the Capitol early Friday to avoid them, and they plan to come back to the building for the third day, the Hill reported. To avoid an estimated 5,000 protesters who swarmed near the State House, the Arizona Congress adjourned Thursday instead of Friday this week.
Barbara Skinner, a Phoenix-based educator, expressed her disappointment over the lawmakers' decision. "I’m disappointed they left. I’m disappointed they won’t have a conversation," Skinner told the US Today. "We want people to know that this isn’t something that just happened a week ago. This has been 10 years in the making."
"I think we have to come back Monday because they closed shop and ran away from us yesterday, and we have to show them that they don’t get to run away from our students," Arizona Education Association president Joe Thomas told USA Today.
Per the survey figures, less than two-thirds of the respondents said they had recently seen media reports on teacher unions, with half of the total number of respondents overall agreed that "teacher unions improve the quality of education" and that "teacher unions improve the quality of teachers."
Another survey participant, Angela Lee, of Baltimore, said, "I only approve if the unions work toward the teachers getting the finances they need to support their families," she told the NPR. "If they're not doing that, it's a waste of time."
Thousands of educators, parents, and supporters in Arizona walked out of the schools Thursday to demand better pay, higher funding from the state government.
With over 1,000 Arizona public schools in nearly 110 school districts shuttered due to the walkout, some 852,000 students, were affected. The teachers walked out despite state's pressure that they would revoke their teaching licenses, an overwhelming 78 percent of Arizona’s 57,000 teachers voted to strike.
Arizona walkout comes at a time when the teachers across several states in the U.S. are rising against the neoliberal government policies and cuts to educational programs, which have left the schools bereft of the necessary funding while the teachers are being paid some of the worst salaries in the country.
Under the banner Red for Ed, a sea of thousands of teachers in red t-shirts, gathered outside the State Capitol, with slogans like, "Straight Outta Funding," "Walking Out For Our Students," and more to pressure the government.
Arizona ranks 50th in the nation for elementary teacher salaries and 49th for high school teacher salaries. Oklahoma ranked 50th for high school teachers, according to a January report published by the Arizona School Boards Association.
The move comes after the Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, proposed to give teachers a 20 percent raise, which the teachers outrightly rejected after it was revealed that the funding would be squeezed from cutting other state programs.
The teachers' unions have proposed a 2.5 percent tax on financial and legal services, which would bring about US$2.5bn a year. The union intends to spend the amount generated on restoring full state funding for educational programs as well as reversing cuts to special education, arts, and dual language programs, the Guardian reported.
Several other issues also factor in with Arizona, where, unlike West Virginia or Oklahoma, the issue of immigration will also take a center stage, as in Arizona, where over half of the state’s public school students belong to the communities of color.
“It’s always been a civil rights issue for Latinos, just as immigration is a civil right for Latinos,” said Grijalva. “I think what the teachers are doing with their strike only clarifies that issues and gives it a profile that it didn’t have before," the Arizona congressman Raúl Grijalva told the Guardian.
According to the NPR, nearly 63 percent of the approval rating of "national teachers' unions" among the general public was 21 points higher than the approval expressed for "the U.S. Department of Education leadership."