EAGLE — After slashing $9 million and 100 jobs from local schools in the past few years, state lawmakers are patting themselves on the back because they could return a drop to that bucket.
The Colorado Legislature began debating the state’s $23 billion budget last week. In it is an additional $100 million for Colorado’s 178 school districts to divide among them.
Of that, Eagle County Schools’ share would be about $350,000. That could replace 5.5 teachers, according to school district data.
That’s not good enough, says a group of local teachers who took their case to the state Capitol to try to convince state lawmakers to increase funding. Gypsum Elementary School teachers Carol Blevins, Tonya Farmer, Lindsay Hawkins, Kathleen Mandeville, Lauren Mill and Mary Stalnaker even gained an audience with Gov. John Hickenlooper, talking about increasing class sizes, decreasing opportunities in art, music and physical education, and problems with recruiting and retaining effective educators because salaries are not competitive. Those under the Golden Dome still don’t really get it, the teachers said.
“We came away with the strong impression that, while legislators were appreciative of our visit, they still do not comprehend the depth of the problem that our schools and children face,” they said in a letter. “Our experiences were eye opening and inspiring, and left us with the overwhelming sense that it is time for teachers, parents and community members to also unite and let your voices be heard.”
Teachers see first hand how funding cuts affect education, Hawkins said. She said she wanted to see legislators in the eyes as they told our stories.
Some classes are so large that all the kids can barely fit into the room. Meanwhile, the classroom next door is empty because they can’t afford to hire a teacher, Hawkins said.
Everything matters, and when legislators allocate money with strings attached, such as additional testing or other hoops for teachers and administrators to jump through, it often negatively impacts their ability to meet kids’ needs, Hawkins said.
“I also feel that they still do not really understand the depth of the problem,” Hawkins said. “They think that they are doing right by Colorado schools, and quite frankly, they are not,” Hawkins said. “We are still so far below the national average in what we spend on education funding, and we are just not getting the job done the way that we should be. There is still so much to be done.”
Gypsum Elementary principal Mitch Forsberg was happy to accommodate his teachers’ schedules.
“We can sit back and complain about what we need to educate these kids, or we can go advocate and try to get it,” Forsberg said.
By some calculations, Eagle County’s schools should be getting another $8 million this year alone — if Colorado’s Constitution were strictly followed. Advocates refer to the absence of that money as the negative factor.
The first versions of this year’s education funding bill offered to return $75 million of that, but the money came with strings attached about how it should be spent.
That created a fire storm from 170 of Colorado’s 178 school superintendents, led by Eagle County’s Jason Glass.
The superintendents insist that there were no strings attached when the money was taken away, so there should be none as it’s slowly restored.
The latest version of the education funding bill fiddles while Rome burns, the superintendents say.
The bill would change the method of counting students in the state and create a state reporting website for financial information on schools.
“On the surface, these provisions would not seem to have much of an impact, if any at all, on the day-to-day operation of a school. And, this is precisely the problem,” Glass said. “These are classic state-level, top-down, big-government policies that will have absolutely no effect on those things that we know make a difference in really improving education.”
The change in student-count dates carries with it the stated goal of creating an “incentive” for teachers to serve students after Oct. 1, while creating pressure on schools to keep students enrolled, Glass said.
“The theory ... is foolish and misguided. The notion that our educators need an ‘incentive’ to educate students, or keep students in school after Oct. 1 is professionally insulting,” Glass said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“They think that they are doing right by Colorado schools, and quite frankly, they are not.”
Lindsay Hawkins, one of six Gypsum Elementary School teachers who took their case for more education funding to the Colorado State Legislature