Mike Johnston: Pay teachers more, don’t put them in jail
We all know that one of the best things we can do to protect Colorado’s quality of life is to make sure that all kids in every part of this state get a world-class education. As a former public school teacher and principal myself, I know that the most important ingredient in that education is the teacher at the front of the room.
This state is already home to an extraordinary teaching force, made up of servant leaders who find a way to support our students even in the face of tremendous obstacles. Colorado teachers are among the lowest paid and hardest working educators in the country. As if that isn’t challenge enough, a proposed new law would put them in jail for protesting those inexcusably low wages. If you have to take a minute to reread that, go right ahead. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds. That’s why I’ll be standing with our teachers and thousands of Coloradans at the State Capitol today to fight that bill.
But transforming Colorado into the best state for teachers will require far more than fighting this misguided proposal. As governor, I will lead Colorado to do three additional things.
First, we must pay teachers more so that they earn what they deserve. Colorado has some of the lowest teacher pay in the entire country, exacerbated by the rising cost of living thanks to our booming economy. That’s unacceptable, which is why I’ve committed to adding more than $100 million per year to compensation for our state’s teachers, or an average of $2,000 per teacher.
Second, we must embrace innovative new approaches to make Colorado more attractive for the nation’s best teachers, especially those willing to work in our hardest-to-serve districts. Communities on the Western Slope know how challenging it is to attract and retain teachers. That’s why as governor I will offer student loan forgiveness and down-payment supports for those who serve in these districts and want to buy homes. Fair pay is a good start but it isn’t enough. We need to make teaching the best job in our state.
Third, we must empower teachers to lead. If we provide teachers with better career pathways — with chances to exercise more leadership, express their voices and earn more compensation over the course of their career — we can ensure their wisdom and skills benefit entire communities, not just one classroom.
These three steps will allow Colorado to continue to attract great teachers, to retain them in the profession and in our state, and to ensure they are equipped to lead and succeed. As teaching becomes more and more attractive in Colorado, we also will be able to recruit a more diverse cohort of teachers who represent the interests and backgrounds of all the students they serve — progress we know will improve student outcomes.
While teachers are the heart of our education system, we must do more to give them all the resources they need to build an equitable education system that’s ready for the future. That’s why I’ve called for repealing the worst parts of TABOR so we can fully fund our schools. That’s why I’ve called for providing full day kindergarten and eliminating the preschool waitlist. That’s why I’ve called for funding summer and afterschool programs to serve the students who want these opportunities but can’t get access to them. That’s why I opened my campaign with the Colorado Promise, a program that guarantees two years of community college or career skills training in exchange for providing service to the state. All these pieces will play a role in attracting teachers and helping build a world-class education system here in Colorado.
I have spent my career as a teacher, principal and policymaker committed to providing high-quality education in every community. As governor, I know the change we need will require both bold ideas and the willingness to bridge divides to bring them to life. I have worked on education at every level from the school house to the White House and know what it takes to get this done.
The first step is making Colorado the best state to be a teacher by paying them the salaries they deserve, not putting them in jail.
Mike Johnston is a Democratic candidate for governor of Colorado. He served two terms in the state Senate and is a former public school teacher and principal. He lives in Denver with his wife and three kids.
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