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Colorado Teachers Are the Latest to Rally for Better Pay, More School Funding

Colorado-Teacher-Protest-600.jpg

Days after the Oklahoma teacher walkout concluded, demonstrations began among teachers in a nearby state: Colorado. On Monday, hundreds of teachers rallied at the state capitol for better pay, more school funding, and a stronger retirement fund, forcing at least one district to close. 

Colorado teachers' salaries rank near the bottom nationally, according to the National Education Association: In 2016, the average teacher salary was $46,155 in Colorado, compared to the national average of $58,353. The state also currently underfunds its schools by $822 million annually, the Associated Press reports. And Colorado is near the bottom of the country in per-pupil funding—spending $2,700 less per student than the national average.

Still, legislators have already included a boost to public schools in next year's budget, the AP reported. Lawmakers plan to "buy down" the annual amount owed to schools by $150 million, and increase per-pupil spending by 6 percent. 

"As a lifelong educator—I was in education for 40 years—I can see what the concerns are, but quite frankly this year they're totally unfounded," state Rep. Jim Wilson, a Republican, told the AP. "I find it kind of ironic that we have the stirring up of the [Colorado Education Association] troops and bringing them to the capitol today when we're considering a school finance bill this year which has the biggest increase since 2008."

About 400 teachers participated in the rally at the capitol, the teachers' union estimated—mostly from the Denver school district and the suburban Englewood district, which canceled classes on Monday. They were calling for more pay and protesting potential cuts to the retirement system. Legislators are currently hammering out a deal to shore up the state pension fund, which has massive amounts of debt. 

It's unclear if yesterday's protest was a bellwether for more teacher activism in the state.

Teacher demonstrations have taken place in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Arizona over the last couple of months. An analysis by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution looked at the four economic factors possibly behind the teacher unrest: low teacher salaries, reductions in teacher pay since the Great Recession, reductions in per-pupil spending since the economic downturn, and state-determined salary schedules. 

Based on those factors, the analysis concluded, Mississippi and North Carolina are the states most at risk for teacher strikes and protests.

Meanwhile, Arizona teachers are currently voting on whether they will strike over pay and school funding—despite the fact that the governor has said he will urge the legislature to pass a 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020. 

For the most part, teachers in states of unrest have experienced public support. My colleague Andrew Ujifusa rounded up recent surveys to see how exactly the general public has said it feels about teachers and their salaries

Image: Elizabeth Garlick, a teacher at North Mor Elementary School in Northglenn, Colo., waves a placard during a rally outside the state capitol on April 16 in Denver. —David Zalubowski/AP

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