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Educators, parents rally for more funding at the Capitol

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By Sal Christ

The teachers are not all right — they’re mad as hell about education funding, and they want legislators to do something about it.
On Thursday and Friday, thousands of educators and other supporters from more than a dozen school districts across the state — including Jeffco and Clear Creek — descended upon the state Capitol in hopes of sending a clear message to lawmakers about how they feel about teacher compensation and school funding in Colorado.
Dressed in red for the #RedforEd movement, they marched around the Capitol with signs that shouted “Fund our future,” “We can’t do it all,” and “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”
They added their signatures to petitions for Ballot Initiative 93, which seeks to provide more state funding for P-12 public education through tax increases. They even spoke about their fears about how proposed changes to the state’s pension fund — the Public Employees’ Retirement Association — will have on their futures.
While some attendees said statehouse activities brought them to the rallies, most were motivated by the challenges their own students and schools face.
“I’d rather be back with my third-graders today, but I think it’s important that the schools get more funding in general,” said Mark Johnson, a third-grade teacher at Parr Elementary in Arvada, who rallied Thursday. “I know that a lot of that is (dependent upon) the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, but we’re very limited in what we can do beyond being here.”
Johnson said funding deficiencies in Jeffco Public Schools mean his students don’t always have enough to eat and regularly miss out on educational opportunities such as visiting the Butterfly Pavilion or the Colorado Symphony — sometimes simply because there isn’t money to pay for bus rides.
“It’s part of why I’m here today. It’s about teacher salaries and it’s about PERA, too, but it all comes back to the kids,” he said.
For Amy Weisheit, a Spanish teacher at Pomona High School in Arvada, the concerns revolve around building maintenance, which she says competes with technological needs.
“The district is trying to maintain the quality curriculum and technology in our schools, but it’s taking a toll on our school budgets, which are being eaten up by all of this technology we have to have to do our jobs,” she said. “ … We don’t want our students to end up like the ones in Oklahoma, where the school ceilings are falling down.”
Parents, too, joined the chorus with their own frustrations over school funding.
“It’s not just about teacher pay — it’s about books for our libraries, it’s about social workers at schools, and the resources the kids have at our schools,” said Kay Slater, a Columbine High School graduate who has three kids in South Jeffco schools. “ … If we have to choose between paying teachers more or buying books or hiring a full-time psychologist, you can’t make that choice.”
While many were not physically present, superintendents from 16 school districts released a joint statement Thursday supporting their educators and the walkouts, and highlighted Colorado’s education funding challenges — including the fact that Colorado ranks near the bottom for per-pupil funding and has an estimated $18 billion in school construction needs across the state.

Statehouse support a mixed-bag
While thousands marched last week in hopes that lawmakers would take to heart the effect that low state education funding has had on schools, legislative response was mixed.
On Wednesday, House Education Committee members permanently tabled House Bill 1232, which would have drastically changed the formula that determines how state funding is distributed to school districts and was supported by more than 170 school superintendents statewide.
Senate Bill 200, which has spawned controversy because it seeks to shore up PERA by raising the age requirement for retirement, cutting retiree benefits and more, advanced through the House for a second reading that was ultimately laid over to April 30.
Still, House Bill 1379, the 2018-19 school finance bill, advanced Friday through the Senate with a reading by the chamber as a whole scheduled for May 1. In addition to a proposed statewide increase of $222.57 in per pupil funding for a new base of $6,768.77 per pupil and a $150 million buy-down of the budget stabilization factor, the bill calls for the most state education funding since the Great Recession.
Senate Bill 264 — which seeks to prohibit teacher strikes and punish participants with jail time and fines, and was introduced just days after Englewood teachers staged a walkout that closed schools April 16 — was scheduled to be heard by the Senate Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs on Monday.