Apr 26, 2018, 2:18 PM ET

More than 1.4 million students miss class as teachers in two states leave school in fight for education funds

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More than 1.4 million public school students were missing classes today as tens of thousands teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out in a powerful display of frustration over a decade of education funding cuts they say have piled up to billions of dollars.

Arizona teachers went on strike after voting overwhelmingly last week to take the drastic move in hopes it will pressure lawmakers into giving them a 20 percent pay hike, fork over a $1 billion in education funding and up the salaries of school support staff.

PHOTO: Thousands march to the Arizona Capitol for higher teacher pay and school funding on the first day of a state-wide teacher strike, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin/AP
Thousands march to the Arizona Capitol for higher teacher pay and school funding on the first day of a state-wide teacher strike, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix.

Public educators in Arizona rank 46th in the nation in teacher pay, earning about $12,000 less than the national average of $59,660, according to a 2018 report by the National Education Association.

In Colorado, up to 10,000 educators have taken personal leave to rally at their state Capitol in Denver today and tomorrow and lobby legislators to boost funding for education there, which they say has been slashed by a whopping $6.6 billion over the last nine years. The teachers are also demanding no new corporate tax breaks until education funding is restored.

"We are fed up at this point," Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, told ABC News this week.

PHOTO: Nikee Onken, a teacher from Douglas County, Colo., uses a bullhorn to lead supporters during a teacher rally Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Denver.David Zalubowski/AP
Nikee Onken, a teacher from Douglas County, Colo., uses a bullhorn to lead supporters during a teacher rally Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Denver.

The Arizona and Colorado teacher labor actions are just the latest in a wave of educator revolts ignited by West Virginia teachers who went on a nine-day strike earlier this year and won a five percent pay raise in March.

Since the West Virginia wildcat strike, teachers in Oklahoma went on a nine-day strike of their own, persuading legislators to up their annual pay an average of $6,000, give support staff a raise and increase funding for education by nearly $500 million. Earlier this month, Kentucky educators walked out of class angry over a pension reform bill they said was passed by legislators without their input and signed into law by their governor despite their vociferous objections.

Most of the work actions have occurred in red states where legislatures and governors' offices are dominated by Republicans. Colorado, where Democrats occupy the governor's office and hold a majority in the state Assembly, is the exception.

PHOTO: The cafeteria of Kyrene De Las Lomas Elementary School is empty but remains open for students, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix.Matt York/AP
The cafeteria of Kyrene De Las Lomas Elementary School is empty but remains open for students, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix.

More than 30 school districts in Arizona canceled classes today and may be forced to do the same in days to come as 30,000 to 50,000 striking teachers formed picket lines and threatened to stay out of school for as long as it takes to get lawmakers to meet their demands.

An estimated 840,000 public school students in Arizona are missing classes after numerous school district shut down schools because they couldn't find enough substitute teachers to fill in. The same problem occurred in Colorado, where classes were called off for an estimated 600,000 students.

"We have a fight in front of us," Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, told teachers during a rally on Wednesday. "And we want the parents to understand that this fight is for your child. How it ends is up to the governor and up to those legislative leaders."

PHOTO: Special education teacher Charmaine Woods wipes away tears as she talks about not being at her teaching job in the Roosevelt School District as she checks kids in at a special day camp at the Salvation Army Kroc Center, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin/AP
Special education teacher Charmaine Woods wipes away tears as she talks about not being at her teaching job in the Roosevelt School District as she checks kids in at a special day camp at the Salvation Army Kroc Center, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has already proposed boosting teacher pay 20 percent by 2020, but educators are concerned over how he plans to pay for it. They say their protest is more than just a paycheck issue and want lawmakers to restore $1 billion in lost funding for education since the national 2008 financial crisis.

"Without a doubt, teachers are some of the biggest difference-makers in the lives of Arizona children," Ducey said in a Twitter post this morning. "They need to be respected, and rewarded, for the work they do -- and Arizona can do better on this front.

"We’ve all been listening -- but now, it's time to act," Ducey added. "My number one focus right now is passing a 20% pay raise for Arizona teachers. This raise is earned, and it is deserved... To parents, I understand the pain & pressure caused by today’s strike. I'm working to get this 20% raise passed."

PHOTO: Principal Brian Gibson, center, and vice principal Melissa Taylor, left, stand at the entrance of Kyrene De Las Lomas Elementary School to turn students away during a teacher walkout, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix.Matt York/AP
Principal Brian Gibson, center, and vice principal Melissa Taylor, left, stand at the entrance of Kyrene De Las Lomas Elementary School to turn students away during a teacher walkout, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix.

In Colorado, teachers wearing #RedforEd T-shirts and toting signs reading "Make Education Great Again" and "Can You Hear Us Now" swarmed the state Capitol Denver.

PHOTO: The sun rises over Kyrene De Las Lomas Elementary School, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix, as a teacher arrives.Matt York/AP
The sun rises over Kyrene De Las Lomas Elementary School, April 26, 2018, in Phoenix, as a teacher arrives.

"We're here today because of our students," Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor and vice president of the Colorado Education Association, told ABC News outside the Capitol building. "They certainly deserve better. We have one of the fastest growing economies in the country. We need to do better for our students."

The teachers say Colorado spends about $2,700 less than the national per-pupil average of about $12,000 a year.

PHOTO: NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia speaks at the #RedForEd Walkout, March and Rally news conference regarding teacher pay and school funding Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin/AP
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia speaks at the #RedForEd Walkout, March and Rally news conference regarding teacher pay and school funding Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Phoenix.

According to the National Education Association report, Colorado teachers' pay ranked 31st in the nation. Colorado teachers earn an average of $53,768 annually or about $6,500 below the national average.

"We have teachers working two to three jobs," Baca-Oehlert said. "We have school districts where they've cut mental health supports like counselors, social workers, psychologists. They've cut art, music, PE (physical education)."

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  • Disqus 30

    My mother was an educator for over 30 years, with that said, produce more (better) if you want to make more.

  • Patrice Lottner

    No matter how you look at the pay of these teachers, they don't get enough for the hats they wear today!!! Cost of living goes up and lawmakers sitting in comfortable chairs make the funding for public education lower than ever and salaries for teachers !

  • Arryandan

    Doesn't DeVos have a large home schooling program? Yes, you can use your school funds to buy a DeVos home school agenda. It looks like it's time to say goodbye to schools and teachers.

  • Andrew

    The teachers in Arizona need to stop voting for republicans. If i vote for you and you want to cut my pay, it's suicidal. I should vote for a democrat - a teacher lover.
    So, the Arizona teachers are not being honest by electing republican politicians.
    You can't expect republicans to help teachers. Republicans hate teachers.

  • cowdogpete

    I'm particularly taken with Ms Onken's sign which states "I'm not in it for the income...." while she protests for more income.

  • Hawkman100

    The biggest insult for teachers??

    Donald Trump gets paid more than they do and is completely incompetent.