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Will Colorado Teachers Go on Strike? Lawmakers Are Worried

Colorado-Teacher-Protest-Blog.jpg

Will Colorado teachers be the latest to follow in the wave of teacher activism sweeping the country? As teachers in the neighboring Arizona prepare to go on strike Thursday, all eyes are on Colorado to see if teachers there are next.

Last week, hundreds of teachers rallied at the Colorado state capitol for better pay and more school funding and to protest changes to their pension benefits. On April 26 and 27, thousands of teachers are planning to storm the capitol again to call for more education funding. At least seven school districts have canceled classes on Friday because too many teachers will be at the demonstrations—including several of the state's largest districts, according to Chalkbeat Colorado. The Denver school district has scheduled an early dismissal for Friday.

It appears that state legislators are worried teachers will strike, following in the footsteps of their peers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and now, Arizona. Two Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would prohibit teachers and teachers' unions from going on strike, and forbid public school employers from "consenting to or condoning" a teacher strike. (In other states, like Oklahoma, employers have implicitly condoned teacher walkouts by closing schools or speaking out in support of their employees. In Colorado, the Denver superintendent at least has been vocal in his support of teachers—in his letter announcing the early dismissal on Friday, he said the state needed to better fund education and "all of our voices play a vital role in this effort.")

The bill says that the punishment for teachers could be a fine of up to $500 a day and/or jail time for up to six months. Teachers would also face immediate termination with no right to a hearing. Meanwhile, local teachers' unions could face fines of up to $10,000 or be barred from representing teachers—and collecting dues—for a year. Their collective-bargaining agreements would be voided. 

These are harsh punishments, and Chalkbeat Colorado reports that this bill "stands practically no chance of becoming law." Democrats control the state house, and they have already struck down an anti-union measure earlier this legislative session. 

Still, it's a sign that lawmakers fear a statewide strike, similar to what has happened in Oklahoma and West Virginia. In West Virginia, teachers received a 5 percent pay raise after their nine-day strike. In Oklahoma, teachers walked out of their classrooms for nine days as well, ending with a $6,100 pay raise and several million more in funding for schools. Teachers in Kentucky have also walked out of their classrooms on several occasions to protest changes to their pension benefits

Already in Colorado, teachers in the 17,000-student Pueblo school district voted to strike for better pay last week. They have to wait until at least May while the state decides whether to intervene, according to Associated Press. That's a state law—if the state's department of labor and employment does decide to intervene and attempt to broker a resolution, the window for conciliation expands to 180 days.

Image: An unidentified teacher holds up a placard during a rally outside the state capitol in Denver on April 16. —David Zalubowski/AP

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