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Cupcakes, bottled water and a chorus of car horns: Protesting teachers are not alone

When Colorado teachers took to the streets for a second day of protests for better pay and learning conditions, the owners of a Denver bakery showed their support by giving away cupcakes and bottled water to educators and others wearing #RedForEd shirts or stickers.

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Ray Sanchez (CNN)
(CNN) — When Colorado teachers took to the streets for a second day of protests for better pay and learning conditions, the owners of a Denver bakery showed their support by giving away cupcakes and bottled water to educators and others wearing #RedForEd shirts or stickers.

"My wife and I talked about what we can do," said Garrett Weekley, 48, a seventh grade English teacher whose spouse runs French for Sugar bakery. "We're trying to bring a voice to getting the classrooms funded appropriately."

Inspired by the recent teacher protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, hundreds of educators in Colorado and Arizona converged on their state capitols again on Friday in widespread walkouts that are garnering support among state residents.

"Everybody has been positive," said Weekley, who saw at least 100 teachers and supporters come through the bakery doors Thursday and Friday. "The message is, you are not alone."

Red-clad teachers greeted by chorus of car horns

Weekley said he supplements his teacher's salary with income from the bakery his wife opened last month, along with a part-time job at Home Depot and a lawn care service run with their 11-year-old son. On Friday, he left the bakery to join a rally at Denver's Capitol building that CNN affiliate KMGH reported was attended by about 2,000 people.

He tweeted a photo of a sign with the message: "Fund the classroom. #RedforEducation #Cupcakes #FrenchforSugar."

Outside the Capitol, supportive motorists greeted a sea of red-clad protesters with a chorus of car horns, according to video posted on social media.

"No funding. No future," one tweet said.

Colorado's 10 largest school districts -- attended by about 502,000 students -- closed on Thursday and Friday, KMGH reported.

Some of those districts had teacher workdays planned, but a majority of them were closing because educators had called in to take personal days, and districts were short on substitutes, said Colorado Education Association Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert.

"It's so amazing to see that people actually care about teachers again," Weekley said. "People are getting back to the idea that in order for us to succeed as a nation we have to succeed in the classroom."

Low pay and funding leads to shortage of qualified teachers

On Thursday, after teacher Amanda Garner rallied at the state Capitol, she went to her other job in the checkout lane at a grocery store. She showed her #RedForEd sticker to a customer who was also wearing one. He said his wife had been a teacher for 40 years and returned later to hand her an envelope with two $50 bills.

"I just cried," said Garner, a teacher for six years.

The state has not kept up with a constitutional mandate to increase school funding each year by at least the rate of inflation, according to the Colorado Education Association. But raising taxes to pay for school funding is difficult because the state's 1992 taxpayer bill of rights requires that voters approve any tax increases.

Colorado's average teacher salary ranks 31st in the country, according to the National Education Association. Low pay and funding means working in Colorado's schools is less attractive to college graduates and prompts teachers to leave the profession early, leading to a shortage of qualified teachers, the teachers group says.

"We do whatever we have to do to be able to stay in the job that we love for as long as we can," said Weekley, who has taught for 24 years.

"I love being in the classroom and working with some of the coolest, greatest minds of our future. I work two or three jobs every year to try and keep my classroom job because I love it that much."

Arizona teachers to rally again Monday

In Arizona, throngs of public school teachers and their supporters returned to the state Capitol in Phoenix on Friday, one day after voicing their dissatisfaction over pay and educational funding with the first teacher walkout in state history.

The governor weeks ago announced a proposal to raise teacher pay over the next three years but educators say it's not enough.

Arizona Educators United wants a 20% raise for teachers by next school year and yearly raises after that until Arizona's teacher salaries reach the national average. The group also wants Arizona to restore education funding to 2008 levels, while Gov. Doug Ducey has offered to restore $371 million in cuts over five years.

Ducey on Thursday reiterated his intention to secure 20% raises, saying in a statement that teachers must be "respected, and rewarded, for the work they do -- and Arizona can do better on this front."

Ducey, a Republican, encouraged students' parents to call their lawmakers to ask them to vote yes on the proposal. His statement did not address educators' other demands.

Teacher Tiffany White said a major point of contention with Ducey's plan is that it will take money from programs for veterans and the developmentally disabled.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, told supporters at Friday's rally that they should continue their walkout on Monday and return to the Capitol, CNN affiliate KNXV reported. He said most legislators were not there on Friday.

"We have to show them they can't run away from our students," he said.

Neither the House nor Senate were in session on Friday, according to schedules posted on their respective websites.

White said many businesses in Phoenix are displaying #RedforEd signs in support of the teachers and offering discounts to educators. She said a store manager paid for a friend's school supply purchase because she was wearing a #RedforEd shirt. Two days ago, a stranger bought her lunch when he saw her red shirt.

"I'm happy and honored to see this type of support, especially because teaching is such a thankless profession," she said.

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