Eagle County Schools superintendent: Colorado ranks nearly last in education funding; how do we fix it? (column)
I made my first attempt at teaching when I was in elementary school. I sat my siblings and anyone else I could find in front of a nice, clean wall in my house, which I proceeded to use as my chalkboard. Although my parents were quite unhappy, I was hooked. The teaching bug had bit me, and I continued to pursue real chalkboard teaching for many years to come.
Since I started teaching in my first real classroom in 1977, much has changed and much has remained the same. Something that has not changed is education funding. We are still pursuing equitable school funding. This week, we saw teachers from around our state head to the Capitol in Denver hoping to influence our legislators to consider greater school funding, including improved teacher pay. Colorado falls near the bottom of the list in school funding and improvements in school funding over time. We are currently ranked 47th in the country. Even more disheartening, is the fact that Colorado is ranked 50th in teacher wage competitiveness, which compares teachers to non-teachers with similar education, experience and hours worked.
Although we are in good company with many other states in the challenges we face as a public-education system, it is astonishing to me that teachers have to stage passionate walkouts to spotlight the impact of poor school funding.
For the past several years, Colorado’s superintendents have also become activists, creating their own proposal for equitable education funding change in our state. The political and painful dance of changing how we fund our schools is long and arduous. Even if the Legislature gives the superintendents’ proposal the green light, then it still has to go to the voters for approval.
It appears the road to improved school funding and improved teacher pay is a marathon, a marathon that from my perspective and in my career life has been going on for 38-plus years. I often wonder if I will see the end of the marathon before my time is up.
When we want to create positive change for kids, we often turn to education as the “fix.” As a child who grew up in poverty, the mantra from many adults, including my parents, was “Get a good education.” Today, I hear the same thing I did years ago, yet the funding has not kept up with that mantra.
As a country that cares about our future and as a state that is highly well-educated in regard to our adult population, the only way for our students to get that “good education” is to make a commitment to improving how we fund our schools.
Eagle County, to its credit, stepped up to the plate last year when it passed 3A and 3B. Improved funding from our community gave hope to our staff, schools and communities and, most importantly, improved the education resources for our kids. Could our role model serve as a push for others in our state and nation?
I remember mentioning to a colleague when I first became interim superintendent that the mill levy override had helped realign past years of salary loss that had occurred through pay cuts and freezes. When I shared that our teachers had received a 10 percent pay raise to help them catch up from previous years of salary loss, the look on his face was one of shock and disbelief. My colleague couldn’t believe a community would be that supportive of its teachers, to say nothing of its schools.
Every chance I get, I tell folks about the treasure that is Eagle County, a place that does a bazillion fundraisers to help support local nonprofit organizations that work hard to provide critical services and programs to improve the lives of the people who call this place home, a community that honors its teachers, builds new schools and deeply cares about kids and families.
How do we get the rest of the state to step up and step out? How do we get our elected officials to see that the best investment is in schools? How do we get Colorado to be the most well-funded education system, as opposed to one of the worst? I hope to see the day when we don’t have to hold a bake sale to fund books or schools? Don’t you?
Maggie Lopez, Ph.D., is the interim superintendent of Eagle County Schools. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.