On April 26 and 27, the streets of downtown Denver and outside the state Capitol were filled with teachers and supporters of education, many dressed in red t-shirts with the hashtag #RedforEd. As many as 10,000 people turned up to draw attention to the lack of school funding. Over 30 districts across Colorado canceled classes on either Thursday or Friday because of a lack of teachers. Even though this wasn’t technically a strike, ironically, two legislators had proposed a bill that would limit teachers’ ability to strike. Initially the bill included jailing and fining teachers who violate an injunction to return to school but was revised to fine unions up to $10,000 a day. The bill is not expected to make its way into law.
Despite the comparative low wages of Colorado teachers, the protests were about much more than teacher salaries. As Chalkbeat reported, Gerardo Munoz, a Denver teacher, voiced one of the many concerns as he spoke at the rally: “Make some noise if your school has had to give up a nurse or a mental health professional! Make some noise if you ran out of paper for copies in early spring! Make some noise if you had pipes break and flood your building!”
The signs protestors carried revealed the myriad of concerns:
- After 15 years of living in Colorado, I can no longer afford to stay. 8 years of teaching and my salary was less than my first year teaching. The cost of living in St. Paul, MN is 25% less than Denver. I have accepted a job there (in the same position) and will make a 41% increase in my salary.
- This rally is about as large as my class size.
- We got to fight for our right to retire.
- Those who can, teach; those who can’t, write ed policy.
Some teachers brought stacks of papers to grade as they sat on the floor of the Capitol building. The goal of the “grade-in” was to highlight the many hours teachers put in beyond the school day grading student work.
Even superintendents from across the state supported the protests. In a Superintendent’s Statement, 16 superintendents explained the funding issues:
- Colorado currently ranks 42nd in the nation in per pupil funding.
• In Colorado, we fund our students at an average of $2,500 per student less than the
national average – not the upper end of the scale – average.
• Only two states, Oklahoma and Arizona, spend less than Colorado on services for
students with special needs.
• Despite constitutional protections designed to protect public school funding in Colorado, public schools have been underfunded by billions of dollars since 2008.
• Teacher salaries in Colorado are below the national average by 15.2%.
• 95 percent of teacher salaries are below the standard of living in rural Colorado.
• Colorado is experiencing a significant teacher shortage. This is compounded in that
close to 20% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years, citing low pay
and low public regard as two leading reasons for leaving the profession.
• It is estimated that there is close to $18 billion dollars in school construction needs
across the state.
Legislators had agreed to increase the funding to schools in the largest budget increase since 2008, but that increase did not come close to meeting the shortfall in funding over the last decade. What’s next is unknown. With the legislative session nearly at an end, the budget has been passed. But teachers and others who care about education are urged to be active by speaking out, attending school board meetings, calling their legislators, and writing letters to the editor.