Colorado teachers ask for funding at state Capitol
April 27, 2018
DENVER — Teachers from dozens of school districts descended on the state Capitol on Friday, April 27, to demand an increase in state funding for public education.
Teachers and their supporters — many of them decked out in red — began streaming toward the Capitol before 9 a.m. Their ranks swelled to more than 3,000 by midday, as they carried signs and banners with slogans such as "WTF (Where's The Funds?)" and "Ignorance is Expensive." Bands were playing to show support for the teachers.
Gov. John Hickenlooper briefly addressed the teachers, vowing to improve funding.
"We see you," he said. "We hear you."
Karen Kolibaba was one of 12 local teachers at the state capitol for Friday's Day of Action.
"Having Days of Action puts it in the forefront of politicians. Educators are standing up for what our students need," said Karen Kolibaba a fourth grade teacher at Gypsum Elementary.
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Tonya Farmer teaches kindergarten and is president of Eagle County's local teachers union. With 11 days left in the legislative session, they don't expect lawmakers will be able to do much this year. But they plan to keep the pressure on.
"The message is loud and clear that the big thing is school funding. We hope the momentum up," Farmer said.
Fighting for funding
Among the 130 Summit School District teachers who participated in the walkout was Summit County Education Association member and Summit High School math teacher Kim Phipps. Phipps was very pleased with the turnout.
"It's been pretty inspiring." Phipps said. "I think it's amazing that all these teachers from all over the state came down here to work to support our students; it's pretty incredible."
Retired teacher Marianne Scott said she's proud that teachers are finally standing up and fighting for better funding.
"Is Colorado a 'backwater' state or a state focused on prosperity for all?" she asked.
Monument Elementary teacher Maria Johnson came from Colorado Springs to protest a lack of school funding.
"I have to buy supplies for my entire class," she said. "It's just sad."
"New teachers today can't afford a house," said Janet Nord, a teacher at Range View High School. "Even though we didn't get into it for the money, we should still be able to make a living."
Jessica Crawford teaches an online Chinese language course to afford teaching in Roaring Fork. She also lives in subsidized housing provided by her district. She loves her bosses and kids.
"We just need more funding," Crawford said. "I wanted to be here to add my voice."
Ella Wonder, a 14-year-old student at Range View High School, said she was happy to be at the rally to support teachers.
"My mother is a teacher, and I know how much she struggles with funding and I believe education is important to make America better in the future," Wonder said.
Friday's rally with teachers from nearly 30 school districts followed a smaller but spirited gathering at the Capitol on Thursday, April 26, when thousands of teachers from Douglas and Jefferson counties marched and chanted.
The demonstrations come as lawmakers have agreed to give schools their largest budget increase since the recession. But teachers say the state has a long way to go to make up for a $822 million shortfall under the provisions of a voter-approved amendment aimed at increasing school funding and countering the effect of the tax-and-spending limits, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
The state's schools are $2,700 below the national average in per-pupil funding, according to the Colorado Education Association, and only Oklahoma and Arizona spend less than Colorado on services for students with special needs.
The teachers want lawmakers to increase funding for schools by making a down payment on the budget stabilization factor — also known as the negative factor — of at least $150 million this year and pay it off by 2022.
Lawmakers must also commit to reducing or freezing corporate tax breaks of all kinds until school funding is restored and per-pupil funding reaches the national average, the Colorado Education Association said. Legislators must increase the state's cost-of-living allowance for retirees to encourage more people to enter the teaching profession, the Colorado Education Association said.
Democratic lawmakers have been rallying behind teachers, agreeing with them that more money should go to kindergarten through 12th-grade education. Republicans, however, have pushed back — especially at the notion of pouring more into education instead of paying down the billions in needed road repairs.
Colorado has 55,298 teachers, according to the National Education Association's 2018 Rankings and Estimates report. There are roughly 16.4 students for every teacher, which is slightly above the national average of 15.9 students.
In the 2012-13 school year, Colorado ranked 40th in per-pupil spending, according to the Colorado School Finance Project. The state spent $8,893 per pupil compared to the U.S. average of $11,001. Spending per pupil varies per district, though.
School districts canceled classes because there weren't enough teachers, meaning that at least 600,000 students had a spring day off Friday. Many of the teachers took a personal day off to attend the rallies this week. Eagle County Schools are on spring break, so classes weren't canceled here due to teachers being in Denver to demonstrate.
The Associated Press and Summit Daily News contributed to this report.