Teacher Walkouts Threaten Republican Grip on Conservative States


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Thousands of teachers demonstrated at Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky, last week, protesting a measure to restructure public pensions.

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Alex Slitz/Lexington Herald-Leader, via Associated Press

CHANDLER, Ariz. — An intensifying series of red-state battles over education funding and teacher pay threatens to loosen Republicans’ grip on some of the country’s most conservative states, as educators and parents rebel against a decade of fiscal austerity that has cut deeply into public education.

As Arizona teachers laid the groundwork this week for a walkout, thousands of Oklahoma teachers stayed out of the classroom to protest low school budgets, and some in Kentucky continued their protests against a pension reform bill. Last month, West Virginia’s Republican-controlled government made concessions to striking teachers.

The clashes could elevate public education into a major issue in several midterm races this fall. Republicans are defending dozens of governorships and state legislative chambers across the country, including in several Southern and Western states where all-Republican governments have passed sweeping reductions in taxes and spending.

On Wednesday in Chandler, Ariz., a middle class suburb of Phoenix, hundreds of parents and students joined teachers in protesting outside schools. A parent, Christine Clinger Abraham, whose daughter is a senior at Chandler High School, wore a red blouse to show solidarity with the teachers’ #RedforEd movement. “They take so much personal interest in the kids,” Ms. Abraham said, “but they have to have a second job” to make ends meet.

Ms. Abraham typically votes Republican, but said, “I would switch party lines” in order to support candidates who want to increase education funding. “I am very disappointed in the Republican Party we have locally,” she said.

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Both Republicans and Democrats in these strongly conservative states see the unrest around education as symptomatic of broader unease about years of budgetary belt-tightening that have followed popular tax cuts.

In Arizona, home to weak labor unions and a muscular school-choice movement, Gov. Doug Ducey, a first-term Republican, has championed tax cuts and private alternatives to public schools. The state is also holding a referendum this fall on expanding its school-voucher program. Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Mr. Ducey, said the governor was prepared to defend his record.

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