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Colorado teachers go to the Capitol to demand more education funding

One school district shut down on Monday.

Life Skills teacher Kennedy Sabelko, right, talks with student Micah Rue, 13, lower right, in a Life Skills class at Noel Community Arts School September 21, 2017. (CREDIT: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Life Skills teacher Kennedy Sabelko, right, talks with student Micah Rue, 13, lower right, in a Life Skills class at Noel Community Arts School September 21, 2017. (CREDIT: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Colorado teachers joined others across the country in demanding more education funding and higher teacher pay on Monday.

About 400 Colorado teachers decided not to come into school to attend a rally at the Capitol and lobby lawmakers. Teachers want higher salaries, more education funding, and reforms to the state pension system. According to a recent Colorado Education Association (CEA) survey of more than 2,200 members, teachers spend $656 on average for school supplies and snacks for kids. Teachers sometimes cover students’ field trips and school lunches.

“I’ve taught for over 34 years and it’s getting worse instead of better. We spend more and more of our own money to do things,” Poudre School District teacher Charlie McNamee told KDVR.

Englewood school district cancelled Monday classes since 150 teachers said they weren’t coming into school. Teachers have also planned walk-ins in other areas of the state to draw attention to the lack of resources in many Colorado schools.

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Teachers say they want lawmakers to invest $150 million in public education, to protect retiree benefits, and oppose a proposal that would raise the retirement age from 58 to 65. Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that would increase contributions to the state pension fund and would cut public employee benefits.

Swanson Elementary teachers at their school walk-in. (CREDIT: Colorado Education Association/Facebook)
Swanson Elementary teachers at their school walk-in. (CREDIT: Colorado Education Association/Facebook)

The state pension fund has an unfunded liability of somewhere between $32 billion and $50 billion, according to the Denver Post. Kentucky teachers, who protested at the state capitol building earlier this month, were incensed over pension troubles as well. Kentucky has one of the worst funded pension systems in the country and lawmakers recently passed a controversial pension overhaul.

Colorado teacher pay ranks 46th in the country according to a National Education Association ranking. The CEA said teacher pay fell by 17 percent over the last 15 years. Teacher salaries are also about $7,000 below the national average, according to the Colorado School Finance Project.

The CEA is calling today a “day of action” where teachers will “wear red for public ed” and oppose the pension bill that will be heard in the House Finance Committee on Monday afternoon.

Arizona teachers also wore red for their statewide walk-in last week, where they asked for higher salaries and more education funding. Wear Red for Public Ed has a Facebook page and describes itself as a “grassroots movement started by parents and teachers as a way to stand up for Public Education.” Teachers wore red last year to express disapproval of Betsy DeVos’ education policies. The campaign began in 2011 in response to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s education agenda, which educators said did not include input from public school teachers.

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Although these Colorado teachers have organized for just one day to lobby lawmakers, teachers in Pueblo may go on strike. Last week, Pueblo Education Association (PEA) President Suzanne Ethredge said the PEA filed an intent to strike with the Colorado Department of Labor. The Department of Labor has 20 days to attempt mediation before teachers go on strike, according to KOAA News. Educators have worked for a year without a new contract and were denied a 2 percent cost of living increase by the board of education.

Teachers in Jersey City, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arizona have all engaged in some kind of labor action or protest over the two months.