Local educators are joining the statewide fight for higher wages and supporting state legislation that aims to raise teacher pay.
At least five school districts in Southwest Colorado will be represented at next month’s March on the Colorado State Capitol, organized by the Colorado Education Association, a labor union for teachers and educational workers. Marchers hope to show legislators a strong display of support for Senate Bill 89, which would create a pot of money for educators’ pay. The march will convene just before the Colorado General Assembly discusses the Long Bill, the annual appropriations act.
“That’s our biggest opportunity right now,” Mancos second grade teacher Amanda Zufelt said at the Mancos School District Re-6 board meeting Feb. 10.
The Mancos and Montezuma-Cortez school boards unanimously passed resolutions favoring state efforts on staff retention and increased funding.
“The Mancos School District Board of Education officially declares its commitment to advocate for funding change at the State level specifically to address educator salaries and compensation,” the Mancos resolution states.
Funding and teacher pay can vary district to district, but statewide, funding ranks low nationally.
Zufelt cited data from the advocacy group Great Education Colorado, which found Colorado is last in the nation for competitive wages. The group found that starting salaries for teachers were 67% of those professions demanding a similar education level – the lowest percentage in the nation.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, in the 2018-19 school year, the average teacher salary in the state was $54,950. The three school districts in Montezuma County had noticeably lower averages, though: $37,763 at Montezuma-Cortez; $40,481 at Dolores; and $40,969 at Mancos.
And the pool of teachers is declining.
“The state of Colorado is one of many states currently grappling with teacher shortages,” a study released by the Colorado Department of Higher Education states. “Throughout the last seven years, Colorado has seen a decrease in enrollment and completion of (educator preparation programs). As these numbers decline, the demand for qualified educators continues to rise due to career attrition and increasing numbers of retirees.”
The study found that in academic year 2015-16, 3,268 students completed educator preparation programs, down from 3,924 in 2011-12.
The campaign for Senate Bill 89 also points to more general education funding issues in the state.
“The legislature has literally become an impediment to any kind of excellence in the state,” Greg Lawler said at the Feb. 10 Mancos school board meeting. Lawler serves on the Ridgway school board and works for the Colorado Education Association.
According to Education Week, in June 2019 Colorado was spending $10,053 per student, about $2,700 below the national average.
The bill’s supporters also criticize the “budget stabilization factor.” Right now, school districts are allocated “total program” funds based on a pupil count, per pupil funding, at-risk funding, and multidistrict online and extended high school funding.
After the amounts are totaled, they are then reduced by the state.
“The budget stabilization factor was established in 2010-11 by the legislature as a way to reduce funding to districts to balance the state budget,” a CDE webpage states. “Once total program is calculated per the School Finance Act, the budget stabilization factor is applied to district’s total program funding.”
As of July, the budget stabilization factor stands at $572.4 million – a debt owed to schools, campaigners say.
On March 19, marchers at the Colorado Capitol in Denver will ask for livable wages, the end of the budget stabilization factor by 2022, and a ballot initiative in 2020 to raise education revenue.
One way they hope to achieve these goals is through Senate Bill 20-089, or the Educator Pay Raise Fund. SB89 was introduced in the Legislature in January. It would create a funding source for increasing the minimum pay for teachers and nonlicensed employees.
Local school districts that expect to send representatives to the March 19 event include Mancos, Cortez, Durango, Telluride, and Ridgway, according to Lawler.
And on Saturday, Feb. 29, the Mancos Education Association, Education Association of Cortez, and Durango Education Association will co-host a funding forum at the Mancos Elementary School gym, 301 Grand Ave., from 10-11:30 a.m.
At least two state representatives will be there: Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, chairwoman of the House Education Committee. Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, has been invited.