Arizona teachers and education advocates march last month at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix to protest low teacher pay and school funding. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

Teachers in Arizona have voted to strike next week, rejecting a proposed pay raise by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and insisting that a revenue stream be identified to cover salary hikes and more school funding.

Educators, who have been staging local protests for weeks, say they will begin their strike April 26 if their demands aren’t met. It would be teachers’ first statewide job action in Arizona’s history. The Arizona Education Association said 78 percent of the more than 57,000 teachers who voted over three days supported a strike.

If they do strike, Arizona teachers will follow counterparts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and other states who have, in recent months, walked out of their schools to demand higher wages and better funding for their schools. The strikes have been unprecedented, happening in states where teachers do not have unions with the right to collectively bargain for salary and benefits.

Ducey said he would give teachers a 20 percent pay hike by 2020. But Arizona teachers, who are among the lowest paid in the country, say the governor has not identified how he would pay for it, and they say their schools are starving for funds after massive budget cuts since the Great Recession. According to the nonprofit group Arizona Schools Now, the Arizona legislature cut $1.5 billion in school funding while a 2016 voter-approved initiative has restored only 18 percent of it.

The Arizona Education Association says on its website that it is unclear what will happen to teachers who strike, but that they could risk losing their credentials. It says in part:

No Arizona statute expressly addresses whether public school employees may or may not strike. There are two Arizona Attorney General Opinions (I80-039 and I71-12) that indicate that public school teachers may not strike. An opinion by the Arizona Attorney General is not binding on courts, but it is considered as persuasive authority.

In Communications Workers of America v. Arizona Board of Regents (1972), the Arizona Court of Appeals noted in passing that public school employees (there, maintenance staff at NAU) do not have the right to strike. However, this statement by the Court of Appeals does not appear to have been necessary for reaching its conclusion that the Board of Regents could not be compelled (by picketing) to recognize or bargain with a union acting on behalf of its employees. As such, the legal significance of this statement is unclear.

A recent report from the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found Arizona among the states that have seen the biggest cuts in school funding in the last decade.

Most states cut school funding after the [2008] recession hit, and it took years for states to restore their funding to pre-recession levels. In 2015, the latest year for which comprehensive spending data are available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008.

In most states, school funding has gradually improved since 2015, but some states that cut very deeply after the recession hit are still providing much less support. As of the current 2017-2018 school year, at least 12 states have cut “general” or “formula” funding — the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools — by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to a survey we conducted using state budget documents. Seven of those 12 — Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina and Oklahoma — enacted income tax rate cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year rather than restore education funding. One of these — Kansas — repealed some of the tax cuts earlier this year and increased school funding, but not enough to restore previous funding levels or satisfy the state’s Supreme Court, which recently ruled that the funding is unconstitutionally inadequate.