Over the last few weeks, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma teachers have walked out of classes in protest over severe changes to low salaries, pension plans, and poorly funded schools. Other teachers across the nation, such as in Arizona, have threatened to walk out and join the protests. Will Colorado teachers be next?
Like far too many states, Colorado’s pension plan was been underfire for inadequate funding. As a result, legislators are considering major changes to the pension plan known as PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association.)
Along with a threat to the pension plan, Colorado schools continue to be one of the most underfunded in the nation, and teacher salaries have suffered. According to a new study by the Education Law Center, Colorado ranks dead last in teacher salaries when compared to professionals with similar education levels. Chalkbeat explains: “[T]he typical 25-year-old teacher at the beginning of her career makes 69% of what her peers with similar education levels who work similar hours earn.” When adjusted for inflation, teacher salaries in Colorado are 15% less than they were 20 years ago.
This isn’t the first time that the low salaries of Colorado educators has been called out. In 2014, a study noted that Colorado teachers were so underpaid that many qualified for federal assistance. Two years later in the NEA ranking of teacher salaries, Colorado teachers landed in the 46th spot. Recently at a superintendent’s forum, one superintendent commented, “You shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty to be a teacher.”
Along with a low salary, teachers struggle with the high cost of living. For example, in three of Colorado’s largest districts teachers cannot afford the rent of a one-bedroom apartment.
Salaries do have an impact on student achievement, according to several studies. Even a modest increase in a teacher’s salary increases the likelihood that a teacher will stay in the profession. That continuity matters for student achievement, especially for students of poverty.