Teachers to demonstrate at Colorado Capitol, saying lawmakers need to change school funding | VailDaily.com

Teachers to demonstrate at Colorado Capitol, saying lawmakers need to change school funding

EAGLE — Up to a dozen local teachers will be in Denver on Friday, April 27, to tell state lawmakers that, among other things, schools need more money.

Eagle County Schools are on spring break, so classes won't be canceled due to teachers being in Denver to demonstrate at the Colorado Capitol.

However, neighboring Summit and Lake counties will close their schools as their teachers join those from more than a dozen Colorado school districts comprising more than half the state's students.

Thank you for 3A, local teachers say

"We want to make sure we convey to our community in Eagle County that we are very appreciative for 3A and 3B to help support public education," said Tonya Farmer, president of the local teachers union, the Eagle County Education Association. "The reason it had to come about is that the state is not funding us as it should be."

Friday's Day of Action follows last week's demonstrations, also at the Capitol.

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Several local teachers used a personal day to participate in that event on Monday, April 16. The school district hired substitute teachers to cover its classes, Eagle County Schools said.

Dollars reign supreme

Like most demonstrations of this sort, this one is about money: per-pupil funding, salaries and retirement benefits.

Around half of Colorado's state budget is spent on education, and there's more money for education than in recent years, according to state budget numbers.

In fact, the state legislature's Joint Budget Committee funded kindergarten through 12th-grade education with $50 million more than Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper requested.

However, Colorado's Public Employees Retirement Association, or PERA, is facing arguably its fourth fiscal cliff in 15 years. The bipartisan Senate Bill 18-200 is the state legislature's latest attempt to stabilize PERA.

How deep PERA's current hole is depends on who's doing the math.

PERA says its unfunded liability is $32 billion, assuming a rate of return of 7.25 percent on its investments.

Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton argues PERA's hole is $50 billion, given a more realistic rate of return of 5 percent.

School districts pay 21 percent of their total payroll to PERA to fund public employee retirement packages, said Rachel George, spokesperson with the State Treasurer's Office.

"That's money that would go to classrooms and teachers' salaries if it did not have to backfill this liability," George said.

No local strike?

Emboldened by teacher strikes in other parts of the country, teachers in some districts are talking about striking if they don't get pay raises. Teachers at Eagle County Schools are not among them, Farmer said.

They support their colleagues, even in the face of questions.

"We're asked, 'Why are we doing this to our students?' We're doing this for our students," Farmer said.

Teachers say they recognize the state's fiscal constraints and constitutional conundrum with the TABOR and Gallagher amendments. Those amendments limit how much the state budget can grow, even when the economy is good, and require voters to approve tax increases.

"We're afraid people won't want to get into the profession. I'm fighting to make sure my children and grandchildren have educators," Farmer said. "I would like teachers to be in a profession where they don't have to work two or three jobs."

"It's pretty sad when a teacher can qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home," Farmer said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

What’s at stake?

Teachers are demonstrating at the Colorado state capitol about retirement funding, per-pupil funding and salaries.

PERA’s problems

PERA says its unfunded liability is $32 billion, assuming a rate of return of 7.25 percent on its investments. Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton argues PERA’s hole is $50 billion, assuming a rate of return of 5 percent.

PERA is the Public Employees Retirement Association, a retirement plan for Colorado public-sector employees. PERA’s unfunded liability is the difference between the projected amount of money needed to pay the PERA benefits earned to date and the amount of money currently available to pay these benefits.

Bipartisan remedy

Senate Bill 18-200 seeks to patch PERA’s hole. For now, Senate Bill 18-200 proposes:

3 percent: Increased contribution by current members and working retirees.

3 percent: Increased contribution from new and future members.

1.25 percent: Reduction in annual increases.

2 years: Suspend annual increases for current retirees.

3 years: Waiting period before new retirees can receive an annual increase.

60: Age at which retirees can receive full benefits after 30 years of employment.

Colorado K-12 education funding

2017-18

• Students: 865,016.9

• Total K-12 funding: $7,450,314,093

• Per-pupil funding: $7,662.18

2018-19

• Students: 871,171.1

• Total K-12 funding: $7,761,227,845

• Per pupil funding: $8,137.41

Source: Colorado Department of Education