By Erin Shaver, Senior Grantwriter at Joining Vision and Action
Colorado is a top state for many things—low unemployment, a healthy and fit population (we’ve held the crown for lowest obesity rate in the nation for basically decades!), a highly educated populace and so many other quality-of-life indicators. Despite these positive trends, Colorado’s education sector faces challenges, such as lack of funding.
First, let’s get the wonkish stuff out of the way….
I have known about Colorado’s underfunded education system for years. You probably have too. As a former journalist who once covered a higher-education beat, I remember sitting down with a local state senator at Trident Cafe in Boulder more than a dozen years ago, a new arrival to the state, straining to understand the Gallagher Amendment, The Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), Amendment 23 and why state tuition kept going up, and how it related to K–12 education.
“The ratchet effect” was the phrase of the day to explain why Colorado’s funding levels didn’t match its economic growth. After the Great Recession, it was instead known as the “negative factor,” or more recently, “budget stabilization.” It has gotten a little better the last few years, but over the long haul it has resulted in an ever-widening gap between where funding levels could and should be—and where they are. (For newcomers to the state or those needing to brush up, the Colorado Fiscal Institute posted a couple recent blogs explaining the impact of TABOR. For an approach focused more on education, Great Education Colorado and Colorado Succeeds offer some helpful FAQs. Yes, it’s complicated, but it’s been a big, big deal over the years and has been increasing disparities between the richer districts that pass local mill levies and have active PTAs to cover the gap—and those that cannot.)
Last in competitive teacher pay… first in economy?
Now, as a parent to two kids attending public schools, this lack of support for education has been on my mind lately. My fourth-grader is gearing up for standardized testing, starting this week (more on that in another blog), every teacher’s favorite time of year, and I can’t help but think about how I’m ready to see the needle move on the education funding situation in Colorado.
Just this week, Chalkbeat.com reported that a recent study ranked Colorado LAST, absolutely bottom of the barrel, for underpaying its teachers. In the whole country. Various rankings and measures from other sources fluctuate slightly, but all I have seen rank Colorado 45th or lower in teacher pay. I have a good friend who works in public school in Oklahoma City, who has been updating me on the recent teacher walkout there. Turns out the states protesting teacher pay (West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky) all have similar teacher pay to our state—coupled with generally lower costs of living. Colorado’s average per-pupil funding is also well below the national average, and it has been for many years. This is all while Colorado was ranked the No. 1 economy out of all 50 states, according to a recent (2018) U.S. News and World Report ranking. This measure is based on GDP, employment and a healthy business climate. While Governor Hickenlooper’s current budget allocates more funding for schools, clearly in teacher pay there is a way to go for parity—and doesn’t match what else is going on in our state. On April 26, teachers and district staff across the state are planning a visit to the state capitol to advocate for increased funding and retirement plan stability. A recent email sent from Jeffco Public Schools’ Superintendent stated, “There is a belief among these groups that years of low funding is having a significant impact on our ability to attract quality candidates into the teaching profession, and is impeding the ability to effectively deliver the high level of educational experience our students deserve.” Clearly this is important for the future of education in Colorado!
At JVA, so many of our clients work in this space—offering alternative schools or intervention programs, working closely with districts and school partners to deliver mentoring, afterschool programs, camps and other education services—teacher pay, education funding, test scores—they matter to our clients and to our community. To keep up with the latest, consider following Chalkbeat Colorado to stay informed, and if you want to see change, follow advocacy organizations such as Great Education Colorado and Colorado Succeeds, and, of course, support your local schools.