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Teachers in Arizona are headed back to their classrooms today after six days of protests at the state Capitol in Phoenix. The governor signed a new budget yesterday. But as NPR's Clare Lombardo reports, it's not everything that teachers hoped for.
CLARE LOMBARDO, BYLINE: Lawmakers pulled an all-nighter on Wednesday putting together a budget that includes a pay increase. It's the first step in Governor Doug Ducey's plan to increase teacher pay 20 percent by 2020. Before the walkouts, Arizona teacher pay ranked among the lowest in the nation. These new pay increases will improve that, but not by much, and not at all for nurses, counselors or cafeteria workers. Amy Ball teaches kindergarten in Phoenix. She says raising salaries was never the only goal.
AMY BALL: If you were to pull any group of educators off of that front lawn on the Capitol during these last six days, I can guarantee you that they wouldn't even bring up pay as their first priority.
LOMBARDO: The new budget won't shrink class sizes or return the $1 billion to schools that have been slashed since 2008.
JOE THOMAS: From Day 1 this has been about our students.
LOMBARDO: Joe Thomas is the president of the state's largest teacher's union, the Arizona Education Association. He's disappointed that the budget doesn't do more for students. But the victory, he says, is that teachers now feel empowered to fight for change outside their classrooms.
THOMAS: They are courageous in ways that they didn't know they could be, telling the story of students and their schools to policymakers, to people that have power in state government.
LOMBARDO: Teachers are organized, Thomas says, and now they know how the process works. They'll push for more changes during midterms this November when the governor is up for re-election. Arizona is the latest in a series of states that have seen teacher protests this spring, and it won't be the last. Educators in North Carolina are planning protests later this month. Clare Lombardo, NPR News, Washington.