Colorado Education Association Defines Legislative Priorities
By Matt Moseley
When Colorado legislators convene tomorrow for the new legislative session, they will have an opportunity to make a real difference in student’s lives. With over 35,000 members, the Colorado Education Association believes that creating schools our students deserve starts with increasing public school funding, aggressively addressing the growing teacher shortage crisis and fixing PERA.
“Our students deserve the very best, and they suffer the most when they do not have highly qualified, skilled educators and support staff in all public schools. We must improve educator recruitment and retention by increasing school funding and by respecting educators as the professionals they are,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman. “If we value the education and experience students receive in the classroom, and if we value qualified educators who provide the classroom experience, then those values need to be reflected in our state and local budgets.”
A strong public education system is the cornerstone of a successful community and the engine for economic success, yet Colorado students and educators are not receiving their fair share of the state’s economic success. The state continues to underfund K-12 education at every level for many years, and is operating under an $828 million budget shortfall in the current school year.
“Educators who have training and resources to do their jobs will provide better learning opportunities for students,” added Dallman. “For instance, the Joint Budget Committee just identified (report pg. 64) that the state has not put any resources towards professional development for teachers or principals for over 10 years.”
Inadequate school funding is directly related to the teacher shortage, the subject of a state study released by CDE in December. The report found 95% of teachers in rural districts don’t make enough salary to meet the cost of living. On the Front Range, skyrocketing housing prices make it prohibitive for teachers to buy a home or even rent an apartment in the communities where they teach. National data shows the average teacher salary for experienced teachers isn’t competitive with other professions that demand much less rigorous coursework, and points to a Colorado example that a teacher here with a graduate degree and 10 years of experience makes less than a trucker.
“Losing professional, experienced teachers has a negative effect on all of Colorado. It hurts our competitiveness and quality of life. More importantly, this turnover hurts students the most,” said Dallman. “Creating the schools our students deserve starts with respecting and valuing educator voice, experience and expertise. We will attract more teachers and keep them longer when they are entrusted with shared leadership and meaningful collaboration in school decisions at all levels.”
Dallman added the growing teacher shortage could also be eased by strengthening PERA to provide a meaningful retirement for educators. “CEA will support proposals that give teachers—and other state employees—a stable retirement. Weakening PERA will exacerbate the teacher shortage if educators can no longer count on adequate retirement.” Nearly 100,000 Coloradans receive PERA benefits that in turn help sustain 32,800 Colorado jobs and helps generate $271 million in tax revenue for state and local governments.