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Arizona, Colorado teachers rally; schools close for second day

"We can't sleep at night knowing that we're leaving our kids behind," said Jennifer Samuels, a teacher in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Image: Thousands participate in a protest at the Arizona Capitol for higher teacher pay and school funding on the first day of a state-wide teachers strike on April 26, 2018, in Phoenix.
Thousands participate in a protest at the Arizona Capitol for higher teacher pay and school funding on the first day of a statewide teachers walkout on Thursday in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin / AP

Arizona and Colorado teachers donned red shirts and descended upon their respective Capitols for a second day Friday in a growing educator uprising.

Educators in both states want more classroom resources and have received offers either for increased school funding or pay, but say the money isn't guaranteed and the efforts don't go far enough. The walkouts are the latest in demonstrations that spread from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

"It's not about us. It's about the kids," Jennifer Samuels, an eighth-grade English teacher and the athletic director at Desert Shadows Middle School in Scottsdale, Arizona, told NBC News. "If we can't reach our students, we're not doing a good job. We can't sleep at night knowing that we're leaving our kids behind."

The rally at the Phoenix Capitol on Friday drew a crowd of many thousands in 100-degree heat, following the 50,000 who attended the previous day. The teachers also announced plans for a possible ballot initiative to come up with a new funding stream for public education, but no formal plan is on the table.

Also on Friday, a separate group of education advocates say they'll announce a ballot measure for education funding.

The walkout was called after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey proposed a plan to raise salaries by 20 percent by 2020. He said Friday afternoon that he had reached a deal with Republican leaders of the state Legislature that includes the 20 percent raise, but the plan doesn't address other demands of striking educators.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato says the budget will fund the raise and an extra $100 million for school districts the governor proposed in January as a start to restoring cuts from the Great Recession.

Some educators seemed less than impressed.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association and Noah Karvelis, a music teacher and Arizona Educators United organizer, said in a joint statement that "We have a press release and a tweet from the governor. We have no bill. We have no deal. The devil is in the details.”

Plans for Monday are in flux as educators decide their next step. Organizers have a permit to be at the Capitol if the walkout continues.

In much cooler Colorado, several thousand educators rallied around the Capitol, with many using personal time to attend two days of protests expected to draw as many as 10,000 demonstrators each day.

Lawmakers in Colorado have agreed to give schools their largest budget increase since the Great Recession. But teachers say Colorado has a long way to go to recover lost ground because of strict tax and spending limits.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says he will help push for the state to pay back about $1 billion borrowed from education during the recession.

The governor spoke Friday to several thousand teachers gathered at a park near the Capitol. He spoke for less than five minutes and didn't offer any more funding than has already been proposed for next year.

Some teachers shouted over him, "We want more," while others applauded him.

In Arizona, teachers voted to walk out after Ducey unveiled his plan, saying that it failed to meet their other demands, including about $1 billion to return school funding to pre-Great Recession levels and increased pay for support staff.

More than 840,000 Arizona students were out of school as a result of Thursday's walkouts, according to figures from The Arizona Republic.

Samuels, the Scottsdale teacher, said she hoped that the rallies would result in smaller class sizes, both for her students and for her own three daughters.

"My students have never seen a fully funded educational system. What that means is overcrowded classrooms where kids are slipping through the cracks," she said. "Our classrooms can be as large as 38 students."

Even serving as both an English teacher and her school's athletic director, Samuels said she makes just over $40,000 before taxes. But teacher pay is only part of the demands that educators are making of lawmakers.

"Our schools are funded right now at the same level that they were 10 years ago, in 2008," she said.

As a result, necessary repairs to desks, textbooks, buses and other school equipment have fallen by the wayside.

"None of that is going to happen until our lawmakers invest in education," Samuels said.

Organizers say they haven't decided how long their walkout will last.

"We want to make sure we can gauge the membership about what they want to do," said Derek Harris, one of the organizers of grass-roots group Arizona Educators United.

At least one Arizona school district, the Chandler Unified School District, has said school will be held on Monday. The district said it polled staffers and determined that there are enough teachers to reopen.