Colorado teachers rally for more money for schools, less for corporations

Author: Joey Bunch - April 16, 2018 - Updated: April 20, 2018

teacher funding
Teachers march along Lincoln Street at the Colorado Capitol Monday to protect teacher pensions and increase school funding. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Hundreds of Colorado teachers left their classrooms and descended on the state Capitol Monday morning to demand lawmakers protect public pensions and put millions of dollars more into K-12 education each year.

“You left me no choice, I have to use my teacher voice,” the chanted as they made a loop around the statehouse before the House and Senate gaveled in at 10 a.m.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver and state Reps. Dave Young of Greeley and Alec Garnett of Denver, strong advocates for public education, met them on the sidewalk and handed out high-fives.

Teachers said they took a personal day off to politick in Denver.

“My message is we shouldn’t fund tax cuts for the wealthy with the retirement of working people,” said Laura Codt, who teaches first, second and third grades in Longmont at St. Vrain Community Montessori School.

Monday afternoon the House Finance Committee will hear Senate Bill 200, legislation to bridge an estimated $32 billion or more shortfall for the state pension plan. Retirees and current state and local workers could pay the brunt of that cost, while the Senate proposal prevents employers from paying in more.

The bill passed the Republican-held Senate 19-16 on March 27 after a days’ long debate.

The legislation is expected to be amended in the House, where Democrats have a majority. A compromise could be worked out by a conference committee. If that happens, both chambers would have to agree before current session adjourns on May 9.

“It’s time to fund schools the way they need to funded,” said Anne Robison, a retired teacher from Montrose schools on the Western Slope. “We’ve gone too far the other way, and if we don’t pay for schools, we’re going to be in trouble.”

teacher rally
Laura Codt, a teacher from Longmont, rallies for more money in education and fewer tax breaks for corporations, at the Colorado Capitol. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Lynnette Acosta, a 30-year educator who teaches kindergarten through third graders at Ellis Elementary School in Denver, was surrounded by younger colleagues marching along Lincoln Street.

“I’m fighting for the present and the future for all our teachers and students,” she said.

The House Education Committee is scheduled to discuss House Bill 1379, the annual school finance act, Monday afternoon as well.

The bill is expected to put $150 million more this year toward what’s called the negative factor, the shortfall between the amount the state puts into K-12 education and the amount it was supposed to provide under Amendment 23, written into the state constitution in 2000.

Advocates at the Capitol want $150 million locked into the budget every year to pay down the negative factor.

Monday’s march was organized by the Colorado Education Association, the teachers’ union.

teachers march
Anne Robison, a retired teacher from Montrose, was at the Capitol Monday to urge lawmakers not to raise the retirement contributions on working teachers or cut benefits for retirees as the General Assembly overhauls the public employees’ pension plan. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Amie Baca-Oehlert, the vice president of the union, said teachers see the tax breaks handed out to corporations and Colorado’s booming economy, but little extra money going education.

“That does add up for our schools,” she said.

Some Colorado districts showed solidarity Monday by wearing “red for public ed” and held events at their school to raise awareness to education funding.

A rally is planned on the Capitol steps at 4:30 p.m. Monday.

“We put it out there for people who can come after school to attend, but honestly we’ve gotten responses from many of our educators that they’ll be going to their second job after school,” Baca-Oehlert said. “Seriously, they won’t be able to attend the rally, because they can’t afford to.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.