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Arizona teachers says they'll end walkout if legislature passes budget

Arizona public school teachers will end a walkout as early as Thursday if the state legislature approves a budget by then, leaders of Arizona Educators United said Tuesday night.

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Ralph Ellis
Chris Boyette (CNN)
(CNN) — Arizona public school teachers will end a walkout as early as Thursday if the state legislature approves a budget by then, leaders of Arizona Educators United said Tuesday night.

"Our fight is not over. We have options, but it is time for us to get back to our students and back to our classrooms," elementary school teacher and AEU organizer Rebecca Garelli said at a news conference.

"If the lawmakers do their jobs and get the budget passed by Thursday, we commit to return to our classrooms then."

Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday released a letter to teachers and parents, saying the state was "very close" to passing a budget deal raising teacher pay. Ducey's plan, which he calls "20x2020" raises teacher pay by 20% over two years.

"Arizona's economy is thriving," the governor tweeted. "We have the revenue to give our teachers a 20% pay increase, and restore recession-era cuts to K-12. Let's get this done. #20x2020"

That budget proposal falls short of what the AEU wanted.

The AEU had demanded a 20% raise for teachers by next school year and yearly raises after that until teacher salaries reach the national average.

The war is not over'

The teachers have been out of the classroom for four days, in the first teacher walkout in the state's history. Red-clad teachers and their supporters have jammed streets around the state Capitol in Phoenix to voice dissatisfaction over pay and educational funding.

The group also wants Arizona to restore education funding to 2008 levels, while Ducey has offered to restore $371 million in cuts over five years.

AEU leaders said they didn't get everything they wanted but promised to keep battling.

"They are only going so far. They will not restore the 1.5 billion" the AEU wanted, Noah Karvelis, a teacher and AEU organizer, said at the news conference.

"The war is not over but we've won an important battle to move the legislature this far."

'A shell game'

On the floor of the state House, Minority Leader, Rep. Rebecca Rios called Ducey's budget a "shell game."

"The reality is, you cannot make up a billion [dollar] deficit by using the same amount of income that we have," Rios said.

"It's really important at the moment because of the info coming out of the governor's office the way it is being put forward is that a deal has been struck which makes it seem like two sides met, that's not the case," Jonathan Perrone, who was at the rally, told CNN affiliate KTVK.

Teachers in the streets

The Arizona Education Association tweeted that 50,000 people participated in a rally in Phoenix on Monday. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten joined the rally in Phoenix on Monday.

"We have to come together to solve the funding issue -- @dougducey needs to talk to teachers and work with Republicans and Democrats to come up with real solutions," she tweeted.

"To ask us just to trust is hard because when you look at history, it's hard to trust," said third-grade teacher Gwen Cordiak. "To ask us to go back to the classroom, when most people haven't even seen the bill... we've been talking to lawmakers that haven't seen bill yet... we're not going on blind faith."

Many school districts throughout the state were closed Monday due to the walkout and have announced they will remain closed Tuesday -- including the two largest school districts in the state, Mesa Public Schools and the Tucson Unified School District.

Another large school district, Sunnyside Unified School District announced it will remain closed at least through Friday.

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