Colorado Teacher Walkout Enters Second Day

· Apr. 27, 2018, 1:02 pm
Photo: Teacher Walkout Second Day 14Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Teachers and supporters protesting outside the state Capitol Friday, April 27, 2018.

Updated 3:31 p.m. -- The Colorado public school teacher walkout entered its second day Friday with 26 districts, including Denver, closed for the day as a sea of protesters dressed in red converged on Civic Center Park.

The tone Friday was more festive than the day before. A jazz band warmed up the crowd by leading them in songs such as “Marching on Freedom Land.” Teachers danced along, while others kept some beach balls bouncing over the crowd at Civic Center Park.

The band then joined teachers in a march east on Colfax Avenue past the Capitol, south on Grant and back to the park for a rally. Teachers chanted and carried signs as they demanded lawmakers to both make up a massive shortfall in school funding and to overhaul the state’s public employee retirement program. 

No official count was available, but there were so many protesters that at one point, as the head of the march was arriving back at Civic Center Park, some were still setting off. The ribbon of red effectively encircled the Capitol.

"I think there’s momentum, really since the last election, that people are starting to pay attention to the issues that matter to them, and they're realizing that if we want our government and our society to look a certain way, we have to be active and involved," said Glenwood Springs High School teacher Garrett Peters.

Phillip Juarros teaches chemistry at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs. He held a sign with a picture of Walter White from the TV show “Breaking Bad” - who left his teaching job to sell drugs. While Juarros said his life isn't that dramatic, he admits that it's definitely hard being a teacher these days.

"There have been times when I haven’t been able to do certain labs because I don’t have the certain supplies that I need,” Jurarros said.

Weld County teacher Vicki Seivley echoed those challenges. She said her district doesn't nearly have the resources it needs.

"If we want to stay competitive as a country, as a state, whatever, we have to back education," Seivley.

​Educators secured a $150 million annual boost to schools in this year's budget negotiations and want to wipe out the funding within the next four years. But even after next year's boost, Colorado will still underfund its schools by $672 million a year versus what's required by the state Constitution. 

The walkouts mean some parents are scrambling to find alternative child care. And some critics say teachers should stay on the job. But no laws in Colorado prohibit teacher strikes, although there is a proposed measure from a Republican state lawmaker docking teacher pay and threatening fines and jail time for striking. It's not expected to pass the politically divided legislature.

Gov. John Hickenlooper told CPR News on Thursday he’s sad to see students out of school this week because of the walk outs. But he sympathizes with teachers who have left their classrooms to protest a lack of money for schools.

“I think it’s what they feel they need to do and lord knows we need to figure out ways to pay them more," he said, blaming the constitutional amendment known as TABOR, or the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, for the state falling so far behind in education funding since the last recession.

“I'm a believer that we have to pay more to teachers," Hickenlooper said. "Ultimately, our kids are going to be the future of our economy, so we're fools or just blind if we don't recognize that and begin finding ways we can increase that compensation. If that means we've got to modify the ceiling on TABOR, then we probably need to do that.” 

Hickenlooper also appeared in front of the crowd of teachers at Civic Center Park on Friday. He spoke for less than five minutes and didn't offer any more funding than has already been proposed for next year. Some teachers shouted over him, "We want more," while others applauded him.
Colorado teacher salaries are set at the local level, which prompted Republican state Sen. Kevin Lundberg to say that, ​"If they expect some immediate solution to what they think is lack of adequate pay, we’re not not the folk to be talking to."

"We’re trying to help them," Lundberg said. "We’re trying to ensure that what they are expecting will be available for them."

But Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod disagreed. "I think teachers need to be barking up every single tree. We are underfunding education at the state level. Our districts our underfunding teacher pay. And federally, we are not getting enough resources either," she said.

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