Educators back at the Capitol with legislative priorities

DENVER – More than 100 members of the Colorado Education Association from across the state welcomed legislators to the Capitol today for the kickoff of the 2019 Colorado General Assembly.

“We wanted to be present with our lawmakers on the first day of session to let them know this is a critical time in Colorado to respect and value educators and students. Our members are in the Capitol today to remind legislators that every day tens of thousands of educators are in school classrooms, cafeterias and buses helping more than 900,000 students succeed,” said CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor. “The concerns and ideas of educators, parents and students need to be the center of any approach to improve our public schools. We told our legislators today that we will give merit to legislative proposals that respect and value the voices of Colorado educators.”

Educators shared their priorities for a legislative session that will profoundly impact their students and the education profession, including:

* Funding Classrooms Not Corporations

Public monies should enhance classrooms and benefit students. Yet Colorado doled out more than $481 million in corporate income tax giveaways just in 2016. This is on top of local government giveaways on property tax exemptions all while classrooms are chronically underfunded to where educators are paying $656 on average out of their own pockets. Actions by legislators this session will shape Colorado’s education system for years to come and that should start with legislators keeping public monies in our classrooms instead of gifting tax giveaways to for-profit corporations.

* Creating Student-Centered, Educator-Led Solutions

It’s all about the students, who should have adequate support and interventions to address their academic, physical and mental health. Legislators should ratchet down Colorado’s high-stakes testing system which drives up stress levels while taking away time and funding necessary to support student and educator mental health. Teachers need an accountability system that respects the profession, evaluations that help teachers succeed, and professional learning that meets the diverse needs of the educator to support student learning. Educators want to be heard during the discussion on education legislation. When legislators listen to the professionals doing the job, good policy will follow.

* Addressing the educator shortage

Our students deserve the very best and they suffer most when they don’t have highly skilled teachers and school support staff. Yet, Colorado classrooms are short thousands of qualified teachers. Teaching is a noble and inspiring career choice, but too often policies undervalue educators and do not respect their voices, expertise and professional knowledge. Educators need more autonomy and authority in directing their time to the most critical aspects of their work and a real voice in decision-making at all levels. Recruiting and retaining qualified educators requires an equitable retirement system.

Baca-Oehlert says educators are encouraged by the rising level of support for public schools across Colorado. Education was the biggest issue for voters in the November election, and though the school funding measure Amendment 73 did not pass, a record 1.1 million Colorado voters supported it.

“Coloradans want to support our schools now. They don’t accept a thriving state economy that gives less per-pupil funding to students than Alabama or Mississippi. They believe educators should be paid enough to live where they teach without holding two or three extra jobs to make ends meet,” Baca-Oehlert continued. “Our expectation this session is that legislators will enact policies that truly benefit educators and the students we serve, not just platitudes or resolutions saying such. Over the next 119 days, legislators have a real opportunity to work with CEA in making sure any and all legislative proposals respect and value Colorado educators.”