by Timothy Sandefur

The Arizona Constitution gives Arizona kids a right to an education. Unfortunately, teachers across the state yesterday engaged in an illegal strike, refusing to report to work and discharge their contractual obligation to teach. School districts went along with this, shutting schools down without bothering to try to find substitutes. One school district even changed its employment policy at a meeting on Sunday evening so that teachers could call in “sick” without a doctor’s note.

Public school teachers in Arizona have no legal right to strike, and their contracts require that they report for work as they agreed. Breaking those contracts isn’t just illegal—it’s also “unprofessional conduct” under Arizona’s education laws. As we explain in a letter that we’ve sent to school districts today, the unlawful strike also violates several other state laws—exposing offending school districts and officials to substantial legal liability.

The disruption this illegal strike has caused is hard to measure. Not only does this unlawful strike violate the teachers’ constitutional duty—and contractual obligation—to teach, but it interferes with the plans of almost 850,000 Arizona students and their parents, who have been forced to make arrangements for being out of school. It’s being said that some schools will add extra days on to the end of the school year calendar to make up for these illegal closures—which not only disrupts vacation plans that parents have made but may even delay graduation and interfere with the ability of students to leave for religious missions overseas (since they must have diplomas before they can go).

As Goldwater Institute’s Matt Simon explained the other day, teachers in Arizona just got a substantial pay increase. But they’re demanding more—and they’re willing to break the law to get it. Whatever one thinks about education funding in the state—and there are certainly things that need to be improved—one thing ought to be clear: the teachers who are entrusted with setting a good example for Arizona’s youth should not assume that they’re above the law, and that they can break the employment contracts that they signed, on the grounds that the ends justify the means.

Timothy Sandefur is Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.