Colorado teachers push for more funding at state Capitol
DENVER — Like other educators, special needs teacher Christina Courtney dips into her own pocket to pay for supplies like pencils and tissues for her suburban Denver classroom. But she has also spent $300 on phonics materials and another $300 on rocking chairs and rugs to meet an evaluation requirement that her room have a creative and comfortable feel.
Courtney, one of several thousand Colorado teachers who converged on the state Capitol on Thursday to demand more funding for schools, said she tutors children during summer vacations to help pay for such expense, but argues that does not make sense in booming Colorado and especially in Douglas County — one of the 10 richest in the United States.
The teachers are part of a wave of discontent among educators in several states spreading across the country this spring.
“We just want to be supported. We want the kids to be supported,” she said, explaining why she and 20 other teachers from her school joined the protest.
Between Thursday and Friday, over 10,000 teachers from districts that enroll over half of the state’s students are expected to rally and lobby lawmakers at the Capitol. Classes have been canceled at many districts mainly along the Front Range.
Teachers started Thursday with a rally on the Capitol’s west steps overlooking the mountains. Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Cary Kennedy told teachers, many of them dressed in red like protesting teachers elsewhere, that they deserved a raise and a secure retirement and criticized Republican lawmakers for introducing a bill to punish any teachers who chose to strike.
But the biggest cheer came when she called for Colorado’s tax and spending limits — the strictest in the country — to be fixed.
Later, teachers marched around the Capitol, some chanting, “We’re not going to take it,” drawing honks from passing cars. Backers of an initiative to raise taxes to fund schools collected signatures in an effort to get it on November’s ballot.
Many eventually flowed into the Capitol. Some sat on the marble floor between the Senate and House chambers grading student papers in a “grade-in” to show how much work they do outside the classroom. Others sent notes requesting to speak with their representatives.
The demonstrations come as lawmakers have agreed to give schools their largest budget increase since the recession. But teachers say that the state has a long way 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.
No immediate increases are expected, largely because the tax-and-spending limits prevent lawmakers from raising taxes on their own.
While teachers in Pueblo have voted to strike after three tense years of negotiations with their district, there is no indication that teachers elsewhere are likely to follow. Kerrie Dallman, the president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said it has no intention of calling for them.
“We’re asking lawmakers to act this session but we also recognize that we’re not going to solve this problem unless Colorado voters decide to invest in our schools,” she said.
Besides increased school funding, the union also is pushing for changes to a major transportation funding bill and to legislation changing the retirement system for public employees.
The proposed education budget would give some $7 billion overall for public schools next year, or $461 million more than the current year. Lawmakers insist the tax-and-spending limits prevent them from doing more in a state that has chronically underfunded education. In 2013, voters defeated a proposed tax hike for education.
“In many ways, legislators’ hands are tied. We’ve done as much as we can with the dollars that we do have,” Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran said on Monday.
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