LAMAR, CO, April 15, 2018 – On Monday, April 16, hundreds of teachers across Colorado will leave their classrooms to march at the State Capitol for education reform. While the Lamar Education Association (LEA) supports these teachers, LEA will not be joining their colleagues in Denver. LEA members will be wearing red shirts to school on Monday to show their support of their fellow educators.
“There are too many Colorado teachers who can no longer afford to live in the communities in which they teach,” explained Susanna Mitchell, President of LEA. “All along the Front Range and the Western Slope, teacher salaries have not kept up with the increased cost of housing and other basic expenses.”
Mitchell said, “This is not the case in Lamar, where teacher salaries are more consistent with the median family income of the community and the cost of living. Obviously, everyone would like to make more money, but teacher salaries must be based on the economic realities of the community.”
There are, however, other issues that must be addressed if children in Colorado are going to keep up with students in other states. Simply put, the Colorado legislature has not kept its promise to fund public schools. In 2017, Colorado public schools lost $830.7 million to something called “the negative factor”, a legislative tool that uses cuts in school funding to balance the state budget. Consequently, we have leaking roofs, reductions in critical staff positions, and inadequate resources with which to teach. These problems affect all students in Colorado, including students in Lamar.
As a state, Colorado ranks 46th in teacher pay. Low salaries, combined with dramatic increases in college tuitions, make it difficult to recruit new teachers and have created a teacher shortage across the state. In Lamar, it is common to have only one or two applicants for teaching positions that become open. Ultimately, this lack of candidates reduces the quality of instruction for students. Experienced teachers are also at risk. PERA, the mandatory program that manages teacher retirement accounts, is under constant attack from lawmakers who want to balance the state budget by spending money teachers have invested for retirement.
Noting that this is a statewide problem, Mitchell encouraged voters to act. “This is a legislative problem that will require a legislative solution. Voters in Lamar should tell State Representative Kimmie Lewis and State Senator Larry Crowder how they feel about this issue and insist that they work with other lawmakers to solve the problem.”
Mitchell and the other LEA members emphasized that the local school board is not the problem. “Our school board has consistently shown strong support for students, programs, and teachers”, she said. “Unfortunately, they are trapped in a dysfunctional and underfunded state system.”
“Those teachers marching in Denver are not there because they are greedy, or selfish, or because they don’t care about students. It is just the opposite. Teachers are marching because elements in the Colorado legislature are intentionally undermining public education. On this we agree. Students in Colorado deserve better.”