Teacher’s union in Eagle County sends educators to Colorado Capitol to advocate for better school funding
First on the list of topics is asking lawmakers to eliminate the ‘BS’ Factor
On Thursday, Jan. 26, the Eagle County Education Association is joining forces with other Western Slope and rural school districts to send around 75 educators to the Colorado Capitol in Denver. This group — representing 12 education association units — is heading down to meet with legislators and advocate for a better school finance model.
“Our children are bearing the brunt of Colorado making their budgeting decisions and it’s time for Colorado to stop balancing the budget on the backs of our children. We, as educators, have done more with less, you as school board members have done more with less, for too long now,” said Karen Kolibaba, a fifth-grade teacher at Red Hill Elementary and the president of the Eagle County Education Association, at the Jan. 11 school board meeting. “If we want to continue to do more, and meet the needs of our students, we need to have our legislators live up to their agreements and the promises that they made when they were getting elected.”
Among the 75 regional educators, seven from the local Eagle County School District will be joining to share their experiences with legislators. One is Laura Daly, who teaches at Gypsum Elementary. She moved to Eagle County in 2014 with her husband, Brendan, who teaches at Eagle Valley High School and is the association’s building-level representative.
Both Brendan and Laura Daly joined the union when they started in the district, but over the years have gotten more involved on the advocacy side of its work as they’ve seen the impacts of the state’s funding model firsthand.
“We don’t fund schools at the level necessary in the state for it to be sustainable for people who want to teach in the state or to provide the same level of education that other states do,” Brendan Daly said.
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Laura Daly said that the main way she sees this funding model taking hold in the local public schools is in their ability to recruit and retain quality educators. For the past few years, she’s seen coworkers start and leave in a cycle.
“When we don’t have the money to continue to be competitive with salaries, we go through this cycle where we get a young teacher who is cheap and they don’t have a lot of experience and we train them and they’re really good, but then they realize it is really hard to make a living here. And so then they leave,” she said. “Then there’s that constant cycle of new teachers and a new teacher just is not as good as an experienced teacher.”
This cycle and “continual turnover” means that the district has a “really hard time filling the vacancies and it’s because the cost of living is so high,” Laura Daly added.
This cycle is only worsened, she added, for educators who decide to have children. Since moving to Eagle County, the Dalys have had two children, one who is now in elementary school and the other who is a toddler.
“Being able to afford child care in the valley on top of the price of housing, it’s just hard to stay long term in the valley,” Laura Daly said.
And while she acknowledged that the district’s efforts in finding money for initiatives and that the majority of its funding is going to teachers, “they’re having to do it with one hand tied behind their back,” she said.
Eliminating the ‘BS’ factor
While Colorado’s poor per-pupil funding consistently ranks among the worst in the country, there’s one thing that lawmakers, education advocates, and districts can all point to that’s making matters worse: the Budget Stabilization factor. At Thursday’s meeting with lawmakers, the group of educators will be asking legislators to eliminate this negative factor.
Also known as “BS Factor,” it was introduced by Colorado lawmakers in 2010, as a way to legally cut the education funding required by Amendment 23 amid an economic downturn. Amendment 23 is a measure that, among other things, requires the state to increase per-pupil school funding by at least the rate of inflation each year.
Since 2010, this factor has meant that public school districts have lost out on around $10 billion in funding. The local Eagle County School District has lost out on $82 million. During the current school year, the factor will be responsible for a loss of $2.6 million in funding for the local district.
In his State of the State speech last week, Gov. Jared Polis promised that he would eliminate the factor and fully fund K-12 schools within four years. While the actualization of this promise would be great, Laura Daly expressed some trepidation on whether it will happen.
“Of course, I’d love to have that,” she said. “However, that funding is based off the economy, it’s based off property taxes, and it’s a time where there’s a lot of unknowns. So it’s hard to say, ‘OK, yes in four years, we’re going to get rid of it,’ when you have to wonder, in four years, what’s going to be the reason not to?”
Even with promises that eliminating this will mean “fully-funding” education in the state, the state’s per-pupil funding would still fall below many other states. However, Brendan Daly said, “it’s a start.”
“Colorado’s spending on education is just not where it needs to be,” he said. “If we can help reduce or get to the BS factor, then that’s one step closer to where we need to be.”
In addition to sharing their experiences, the educators will be delivering petitions on Thursday that show wide-ranging support for eliminating the factor. According to Kolibaba, the Eagle County Education Association has collected around 250 signatures.
While Laura Daly said that talking about these issues, especially teacher pay, can be uncomfortable, she said that advocacy has become increasingly important for the future of the profession and schools.
“You don’t get into this profession for the pay, nobody does. And so because of that, it feels uncomfortable to advocate for more,” she said. “But when I’m advocating for that, I’m advocating for my children’s teachers. I’m advocating for my students’ future teachers. It’s not just me advocating for myself. It’s advocating for how can we make the school district the best it can. And the No. 1 way is good teachers.”