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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey Signs Education Funding Bill After Long Night Of Debate

After the Arizona Legislature stayed in session all night, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill early this morning granting teachers an average 19 percent pay increase within three years.

“This is a real win for our teachers for our kids for our educators in the classroom,” he said in a twitter video of him signing the school funding bill at 6:09 a.m.

Ducey said the plan also provides $100 million in other assistance, money he calls "flexible dollars'' that can be used by schools for a variety of needs, including raises for support staff like counselors, custodians and others who are not included in the teacher pay package.

The tweet came even as the House was still approving other pieces of the $10.4 billion spending plan.

Hundreds of red-clad Arizona educators and supporters stayed at the state Capitol throughout the night.

#RedForEd Strike: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5

At around midnight, some teachers began unrolling sleeping bags in the capitol courtyard. Many say they felt frustrated watching the budget hearings drag on into the early hours of the morning.

Kasey Kerber has been teaching in Mesa for 16 years and 4 a.m. marked his 11th hour waiting in the Senate lobby.

“I had a seat right by the window so i could look down on the courtyard and the numbers kinda grew as the night went on,” Kerber said. “So it was pretty incredible to see that more people were showing up as opposed to just kinda leaving the scene.”

Supports also sang hymns like “America the Beautiful” and “Amazing Grace” during a candlelight vigil. Others live streamed the debates and caucuses on their phones and tablets.

Cheers could be heard through both the House and the Senate during debates, said Megan McClusky, a third- and fourth-grade teacher in the Balsz District.

She was in the House gallery when Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, pointed out that Republicans were the only one voting for the bill with that 19 percent pay hike, with Democrats opposed.

"So I want the Arizona voters to know and to remember who defended the teachers in November,'' Kern said.

That drew derision from Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, who said the package does not restore the more than $1 billion the Republican-controlled Legislature cut from K-12 education in the past decade.

"You can't set a house on fire, call 911 and claim to be a hero,'' he said.

But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, chided Democrats for complaining now that a 19 percent increase it too little even as they pushed last year, albeit unsuccessfully, for a 4 percent hike.

Even with the complaints that the state should have done more, four Senate Democrats joined with the 16 Republicans present to support the pay plan. All 25 House Democrats were solid in their opposition.

Other demands of the #RedForEd movement, like giving raises to support staff, shrinking class size and adding money for more school counselors, were struck down, as were proposals by Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who has been a vocal opponent of the teacher walkout.

She sought to make it illegal for teachers to "use classroom time to espouse political ideology or beliefs,'' language that could be read to preclude teachers from wearing their #RedForEd T-shirts in class. But Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said her proposal was not part of the official budget deal.

Allen also shot down another Townsend proposal which would impose $5,000 fines on districts that close schools on days they were supposed to be open. Permissible exceptions would include invasion, riot, epidemic, plagues of insects and acts of God — but not strikes.

Townsend said many students and parents were not only inconvenienced by the strike and the closure of schools but may have suffered financial losses due to changing travel plans for graduation or vacations. And she lashed out at teachers who were in the gallery — teachers presumably on strike — who were watching the debate.

"You should not be able to do that to the people of this state because you want funding,'' she said.

Townsend said she understands how funding decisions are made at the Legislature. And she seemed to indicate some empathy with the concerns of teachers.

"But you do not get to hurt the people of this state because I represent them as well,'' Townsend said. "And I will do everything I can to ensure that their losses are recouped.''

Organizers of the #RedForEd movement countered with their own promises.

"The people down here, a lot of them, don't listen to our voices,'' said Noah Karvelis. He is one of the organizers of Arizona Educators United, the group that crafted the #RedForEd movement that, along with the Arizona Education Association, organized the strike that began last Thursday.

"They don't respond,'' Karvelis continued. "If they did, we'd have $1.1 billion for education in this budget.''

But with the budget now approved and nothing more to be gained, teachers are expected to start returning to the classroom Friday, ending the state's first-ever teacher walkout that affected the majority of the 1.1 million public school students.

The lesson of all this for educators, Karvelis said, is to remain politically organized.

"Now we've got to sustain it and bring answers,'' Karvelis said. "And one of the ways we do that is through the ballot now.''

Capitol Media Services contribued to this report.

Claire Caulfield was a reporter and Morning Edition producer from 2015 to 2019.