Colorado teachers rally for higher pay, better pension at state Capitol

DENVER – Dozens of Colorado public school teachers descended Monday on the state Capitol to demand better pay and pensions as lawmakers inside debated their future retirement benefit program.

Englewood Schools were closed for the day as most of the school’s teachers joined the rally. The educators are the latest across the U.S. who have joined public walkouts to call for higher wages for public school teachers.

"It’s the symbol of being fed up. We’re angry and we need to fix the school funding issue and our pension system," said Kerrie Dallman, the president of the Colorado Education Association.

The Colorado Education Association hosted what it’s calling a “Lobby Day” and the Englewood teachers are joining the CEA in support. Educators from other districts in Colorado are also expected to participate, though it’s unclear exactly how many will join.

Many of the teachers wore red at the rally, joining the other protesters across the country.

The CEA estimates that Colorado teachers spend $656 of their own money for school supplies for students each year, and the average teacher salary here ranks 46th among U.S. states and Washington, D.C., according to the National Education Association.

The teachers started their day outside of the Capitol, where they hoisted signs calling for higher pay across the state.

Megan Allen, a first-year teacher in the Adams 12 school district, told Denver7 she worries what the future will bring for her and her kids.

“I live paycheck to paycheck and I’m barely getting by. And I’m a first-year teacher, I have a long road ahead of me,” she said.

She talked about the difficulties of being a young teacher with a small classroom budget.

“I’ve spent my classroom budget on a field trip for my students because my students wouldn’t be able to pay for a field trip on their own,” she said. “But that means my classroom budget is shot for the rest of the year, so if I need a pencil sharpener, I can’t afford to buy one.”

The state currently is underfunding schools by more than $800 million each year, and the teacher shortage and education budget shortage are hitting rural schools hardest. There is some additional money pledge toward paying down that figure in the budget, but Democrats have argued it’s not enough.

The pension program, called PERA in Colorado, has massive amounts of debt, and Republicans are discussing cutting some benefits. But at least one Republican said that the teacher pay problem fell to districts and not just the state.

“Here at the Capitol, we don’t buy pencil sharpeners, we don’t buy school buses,” said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Park County. “We allocate the dollars, and the local school district makes the decision over where those dollars will be spent.”

Colorado’s TABOR law and the Gallagher Amendment also have huge says in how school funding is determined each year. The rally is expected to continue after Monday afternoon’s committee hearing.

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