Wearing red denoting education on their bodies, along with smiles on their faces, a few local teachers joined about 100 others from around the state at the Capitol on Friday to emphasize their priorities to lawmakers at the opening of the 2019 legislative session.
The mood was upbeat and hopeful, yet concerned, said Simon Ellis, a first-grade teacher at Academy International Elementary School in Academy School District 20.
“We wanted to remind legislators we are still fighting for our profession, for better recognition of what we do,” he said.
The participants, who walked from the Colorado Education Association headquarters to the Capitol, have been sending postcards to elected officials with a list of their union’s funding priorities.
Those include funding classrooms instead of “corporate income tax giveaways” and property tax exemptions, ratcheting down Colorado’s high-stakes testing system and addressing the educator shortage through such means as “an equitable retirement system” and giving educators more autonomy, authority and decision-making capability.
“I think education is beginning to be moved back on the table as something that not only needs to be discussed but needs to be acted on,” Ellis said. “We have to retain our educators we have and bring more on board. We’re always scrambling in D-20; even down to substitute teachers, we don’t have enough.
“There’s not that desire to work in schools as there has been in the past, and we need to get that stature of being an educator returned.”
CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor, said the concerns and ideas of educators, parents and students need to be at the center of any approach to improve public schools.
“We told our legislators today that we will give merit to legislative proposals that respect and value the voices of Colorado educators,” she said in a news release from the state’s largest educators union, which represents more than 35,000 members.
Although every candidate the association endorsed won their bids in the now Democratic-controlled House, Senate and governor’s office, Ellis said, “We need to hold their feet to the fire, to their promises that they made in November.
“Everyone, bar none, listed education as one of their important bullet points in their election campaigns.”
A statewide ballot proposal to increase funding for schools — Amendment 73 — failed in November, which was “probably not surprising,” said Becky Thomas, president of the 230-member Academy Education Association of D-20 and a paraprofessional at several D-20 schools.
Proponents have pointed out that despite its defeat, a record 1.1 million Colorado voters supported the measure.
“I do think people realize that something needs to be done, and we’ll keep at it,” Thomas said.
“The people we’ve elected have an understanding that they got to where they are in part because of the support and help of educators,” she said.
“And paybacks are going to be necessary.”
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