In Colorado, more than 10,000 teachers were demonstrating Thursday and Friday in Denver, using personal time to rally for more money for their classrooms. About half of the state’s 900,000 students have shuttered schools as a result.
Some sat on the marble floor in between the Colorado Senate and House chambers inside the Capitol, grading student papers to show how much work they do outside the classroom, work that ultimately benefits students.
“Teachers being secure makes for a better environment” for students, said Nancy Irvin, who teaches at Ranch View Middle School in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch. “If you can’t afford to live in the community where you teach, that’s a problem.”
Average teacher pay in Colorado was $51,808 in 2017, which ranks 31st among states and the District of Columbia, according to a National Education Association reportreleased earlier this month. The same report lists the average teacher’s salary in Arizona as $47,403, ranking 44th.
Starting salaries also are important to attract high quality teaching prospects, said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association. In some school districts in the state, starting pay is as low as $29,000.
Teachers’ average starting pay in Colorado was $32,980 for the 2016-17 school year, according to NEA research. That ranks Colorado fourth from the bottom, lower than Arizona, where the average starting salary is $34,068.
No large scale strike is planned in Colorado as in Arizona, where the walkout is affecting more than 850,000 students and closing more than 1,000 public schools.
Since Colorado lawmakers don’t have the power to raise taxes without asking voters, teachers there not expecting an immediate fix. The teachers’ union is backing a ballot initiative to raise taxes on people earning more than $150,000 a year and corporations.
Colorado teachers also are watching changes made to the state’s pension system, a rallying point for Kentucky teachers who had a series of protests earlier this month in their state capitol of Frankfort. Teachers also had strikes this year in Oklahoma, where per pupil spending last year ranked 45th in the country, and West Virginia.
Arizona’s grassroots #RedForEd movement began with a peaceful demonstration in early March and spiraled into what could be a multi-day walkout intended to pressure Ducey and state lawmakers to restore a decade of cuts to education.
Educators’ demands include immediate 20% teacher pay raises, competitive pay for support staff such as bus drivers and paraprofessionals, and restoring the $1 billion in state money for education that has been cut since the recession.
“A lot of people think all the teachers are out here for their own pay, but we are out here for funding for classroom and kids,” Candice Brownd said. She teaches second grade at Copper Trails School in Goodyear, Ariz., about 20 miles west of Phoenix.
Ducey has proposed to give teachers 20% pay raises by 2020 without raising taxes. While the Republican governor has said he is committed to making his plan a reality, most legislators don’t appear to support it.
As the rally was beginning, the Arizona Senate decided to adjourn until Monday, allowing those lawmakers to avoid contact with the protesters for the rest of the week. Teachers booed when walkout organizers told them about the adjournment.
Dozens of #RedForEd supporters did fill the state House gallery, cheering when Rep. Isela Blanc, a Tempe Democrat, said the state’s education financing crisis is the result of 17 years of corporate tax cuts that have sucked money from the public schools.
“This is not a crisis made overnight,” she said. “It is a crisis of over close to two decades.”
When the thermometer hit 95 degrees at about 1:30 p.m. MST, the teachers decided to end their rally three hours early. Some participants already were collapsing in the heat.
They will gather again at 10 a.m. Friday; Colorado teachers will rally at 2 p.m. MDT.
Ducey said he has no plans to meet with striking Arizona teachers and isn’t planning to address their demands beyond his salary proposal.
A prominent TV news anchor, Kari Lake at KSAZ-TV, Phoenix, created controversy Tuesday when she tweeted that Arizona’s #RedForEd movement was a push to legalize marijuana. She deleted the tweet and apologized on the station’s 9 p.m. broadcast the night before the walkout but kept a Facebook post up that raised similar questions.
Tax revenue from legalizing pot is something that at least two Arizona representatives are trying to revive. Their bill that would allow people 21 and older to use the drug recreationally, but the legislation has not advanced beyond being filed.
Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use doesn’t use pot tax revenue in the classroom. Some of the $129 million in state sales taxes — $40 million — is set aside to build new schools; a few million more goes into a public school fund, where it is far less than 1% of the total needed to run public schools in Colorado.
Contributing: Lorraine Longhi, Lily Altavena, Alia Beard Rau, Lauren Castle, The Arizona Republic; Allison Sylte, Brandon Rittiman, KUSA-TV, Denver; The Associated Press. Follow Ricardo Cano on Twitter: @Ricardo_Cano1
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