Thousands of Colorado teachers converged on the state Capitol Thursday and Friday to demand more funding for public education, higher pay and a more favorable fix to the state’s pension plan for public employees.
“For too many years, Colorado has been chronically underfunding its schools,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, vice president of the Colorado Education Association. “We educators see what that means to our classrooms and our buses and our cafeterias.”
Colorado schools are underfunded by $822 million, due to what is called the “budget stabilization” or “negative factor,” a budgeting move that allows the state to pay schools below the amounts required by law. Teachers want the legislature to pay down that shortfall by at least $150 million this year and to pay it off entirely by 2022.
Per pupil funding in the state – at $2,700 below the national average – is also too low, educators say. Teachers are asking lawmakers to reduce or freeze tax breaks until the per-pupil amount reaches the national average and school funding is restored.
Lastly, educators want support for Initiative 93 which will raise $1.6 billion annually in support of public education. 92 percent of tax payers will not see an increase, according to a statement by the Colorado Education Association.
Some say chronic low pay for teachers in the state is contributing to an ongoing teacher shortage. In 2016, the state ranked 46th in the nation for average teacher salaries.
To keep educators in the profession, advocates said it’s imperative they have a secure retirement. They are asking for more changes to Senate Bill 200, which will modify the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) so that current retirees can receive a higher cost of living allowance.
Terrenda White, an assistant professor of Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice at the University of Colorado Boulder, said the rallies are more important than just teacher benefits.
“Teacher’s working conditions and their resources and the things that they … lobby for are very much related to students’ learning environment,” she said. “I think there’s usually a false divide between teachers needs and students needs and they’re very much interrelated.”
About two dozen districts – including Douglas County, Denver and several in northern Colorado – marched together to raise support for public education. Due to the large number of teachers at the state Capitol many schools around the state closed Thursday and Friday.