Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arizona Teachers Plan To Strike On Thursday


Teachers in Arizona say they're striking next week - that despite a promise by the state's governor to give them a 20 percent raise by 2020. Cathy Zinkhon Matsumoto has been a special education pre-K teacher in the Mesa Public Schools for the past eight years, and she joins us now.

Thank you so much for being with us.

CATHY ZINKHON MATSUMOTO: Thank you for having me, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why are teachers saying they're going to walk out next Thursday?

MATSUMOTO: Teachers are walking out because we are fighting for education funding and additional funding for our support staff. Governor Ducey has promised that we will - that teachers, his definition of teachers, will receive a raise over the next three years. But he has neglected to meet the demands regarding our support staff and providing funding to give those support staff, such as custodians, cafeteria workers, instructional assistants. There needs to be funding to also increase their wages for all the work that they do for our students.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's it like to be a teacher in Arizona? Can you tell me a little bit about the salaries that you all live off of and some of the challenges that you face?

MATSUMOTO: Well, many of the discussions I've had with other educators is that many times, we have to have a partner - or if we are single, that our partner's income supports our teaching habits, if you will. Certified teachers with master's degrees teaching in their district for 15 years are still making around $30,000 to $35,000 within their district. To have that amount of education and that amount of experience and be paid that wage, that's not a livable wage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Arizona is a right-to-work state, which means unions don't have much power to negotiate there. Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma are, too. These are all states with Republican legislatures. And we've seen actions by teachers recently in those states, as well. Do you wish you had a union speaking for you? Would that be an answer?

MATSUMOTO: The reason why I got involved was because of the teacher-led grassroots movement. We have been supported by other organizations. Arizona Education Association, which is our union - our teacher union here in the state - have been supporting us. Do I wish that a union was representing us? I'm glad that they are supporting us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think this is happening now in places like Kentucky and West Virginia and Oklahoma and now Arizona?

MATSUMOTO: I think, nationwide, that the teaching profession has been undervalued as a whole. And I think that it only takes one to step forward and say this is enough. It's enough. And I think we saw that in West Virginia. I think that they definitely were fighting for education funding, but they were also fighting for their health care. In Kentucky, they were fighting for their pensions. And that was more of a pension issue plus funding. In Oklahoma, theirs is very similar to Arizona's, where they were fighting for salaries and funding, as well. And so I think as a whole, as a nation, I think that teachers and educators in the teaching profession have said, you can no longer ignore us. You can't make a living on a teacher's wage. And we've had enough.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Cathy Zinkhon Matsumoto teaches in Mesa, Ariz. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MATSUMOTO: Absolutely. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.