Press Release: With Public on Their Side, Educators Charge Legislators with Responsibility to Protect Public Education

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 20, 2020

DENVER – As the Colorado Legislature prepares to reconvene next week to balance the state budget and pass the School Finance Act for the 2020-21 school year, the Colorado Education Association is charging legislators to protect public education funding now and for the future.

“The notion that our schools and students could bear the brunt of the cuts needed to balance the state budget is unacceptable. The last thing anybody wants is further disruption in the lives of students after all they have been through,” said CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor, during a virtual press conference today.

Baca-Oehlert noted that past education cuts from the Great Recession, totaling $8.1 billion, still harm our students today. “Difficult budget decisions shouldn’t continue to be made on the backs of Colorado students and educators. The Colorado Legislature did that 10 years ago and we’ve never recovered. We need to treat this downturn differently and continue to prioritize educators, schools and students,” Baca-Oehlert added.

Baca-Oehlert said the key to minimizing K-12 education cuts is keeping the Budget Stabilization Factor flat. Even if the BS Factor remains flat, it still amounts to a $572 million cut to our students and educators for the next school year. Before further cuts to the K-12 education system are even considered, she said the legislature must first:

  • Pass an Emergency Tax Relief bill to raise revenue;
  • Pause the accountability system and redirect funds currently allocated to some grants and mandates in order to free up local resources;
  • Make cuts to other departments so that education is not bearing the majority of the burden.

“Our students, many of whom come from high-trauma and high-poverty situations, don’t need their lives impacted further. They need stability,” said Cody Childers, a middle school English teacher in Cortez. “Every single cut impacts us tremendously.”

In a new CEA poll, Colorado voters agreed public schools and educators are worthy of more public support and investment. When asked to consider budget cuts to public services, most voters ranked K-12 public school funding as one of the last things to cut. In the same poll, when voters were offered three possible options on how to close the state’s $3 billion state budget shortfall, 81% preferred increasing taxes over cutting K-12 public school funding, with 68% preferring to increase taxes only on those making over $250,000.

“We hear everyone say, ‘We’re all in this together.’ It’s time to put our money where our mouth is. We must welcome students back to a more equitable, safe, and dynamic learning environment,” said Marilyn Winokur, chair of Coloradans for the Common Good. CCG, along with CEA, endorses Fair Tax Colorado to place Initiative #271 on the election ballot to give tax relief to 95% of Coloradans while raising critical revenue for education and other vital public services.

Colorado educators are going above and beyond under unbelievable circumstances to meet student needs since in-person instruction and learning was cancelled due to the pandemic. Denver teacher Monica Hunter said distance learning is not a long-term solution and her students who have lost valuable face-to-face, in-person instruction time will require additional supports and resources to catch up.

“Specialized services such as social workers, counselors and psychologists were already stretched thin before COVID-19 and we know many students are dealing with new traumas,” said Hunter, who teaches at a Title I school. “These are unprecedented times but no matter what, education must prevail.”

In CEA’s voter poll, a clear majority of voters responded that schools should prioritize classroom instruction that focuses on teaching to close student learning gaps over everything else when students return to school, including standardized testing.

Baca-Oehlert reviewed the long-lasting effects of severe budget slashing from only a decade ago: more educators leaving the profession; fewer college students choosing to study education; four-day school weeks; lack of access to mental health supports; larger class sizes and fewer class offerings. “The further cutting of school budgets will harm our students for the next decade and beyond. Tough decisions are required but balancing another budget crisis on the backs of our students, educators and schools is simply not an option.”

Download the polling memo and the topline results of CEA’s statewide voter poll by Keating Research.

# # #