Teachers across Littleton Public Schools joined colleagues statewide advocating for better school funding on April 16, holding a brief before-school rally to drum up support for what they call needed …
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No, marijuana tax revenue hasn’t fixed school funding problems in Colorado. In fact, the marijuana tax revenue allocated to the Colorado Department of Education in the past year — much of which went to a fund to build new schools, not operating expenses — represented only 1.6 percent of the state’s total education budget, according to state data.
The myth of the sea of weed tax revenue is one of the misconceptions about public school funding that Arapahoe High School teacher Amanda Crosby is trying to clear up.
Teacher rallies around the state on April 16 addressed funding challenges posed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, a state law that limits how much tax revenue the state can collect, and mandates that all tax increases must be approved by popular vote.
A conflict in state laws requiring both a balanced budget as well as increases in education funding prompted the state legislature to ratchet down school spending beginning during the Great Recession in 2009, causing a budget shortfall called the “negative factor.” The negative factor has seen Colorado schools shortchanged by billions of dollars in the years since.
The impact means Littleton Public Schools have missed out on more than $100 million in state funding over the past nine years, Crosby said.
The impact has been felt statewide: Colorado ranks 42nd in the nation in per-pupil funding, according to the journal Education Week, and dead last in teacher pay competitiveness.
The rallies were timed to coincide with protests at the state capitol, where hundreds of teachers gathered to voice their views on a pair of measures with impacts for public education.
The first regards the state budget, where a robust season of revenue collection has prompted lawmakers to offer to pay down the negative factor by $150 million, which teachers say isn’t nearly enough. The Colorado Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union, is pushing for a paydown of about $830 million.
The second issue at hand would alter the Public Employees Retirement Association system, or PERA, changing it to a model that more closely resembles a 401(k), in which employees choose to fund the plan, rather than the current model that guarantees a specific retirement amount. Teachers largely oppose the measure, which they say introduces the uncertainty of market forces to their retirement accounts, among other criticisms.
Volunteers for a grassroots effort called Great Schools Thriving Communities collected petition signatures at rallies on April 16, seeking support for a ballot measure called Initiative 93, that would increase school funding by levying an income tax on residents making more than $150,000 a year, with tax increments increasing with income.
Supporters say the measure would increase base funding for all students, fund full-day kindergarten and early childhood classes, and increase state funding to local districts for gifted and talented students, special education and English language learners.
The tax increase would have no impact on 92 percent of tax filers, supporters say, and would start at 0.37 percent for earners making between $150,000 and $200,000, which would translate to roughly $81 a year. Earners making half a million dollars a year or more would be taxed at a rate of 1.25 percent.
More info is at greatschoolsthrivingcommunities.org
Teachers across Littleton Public Schools joined colleagues statewide advocating for better school funding on April 16, holding a brief before-school rally to drum up support for what they call needed fixes to the way the state pays for education.
Amanda Crosby, a social studies teacher at Arapahoe High School who is also the president of the Littleton Education Association, the union that represents LPS teachers, is helping lead Littleton educators in rallies for school funding measures in a state that ranks near the bottom nationwide in government support for public education.
The result of the lack of support, Crosby said, is overcrowded classrooms, insufficient support for special education programs, and high rates of teacher exhaustion.
“We've had to cut some class offerings,” Crosby said. “We're doing a lot more with a lot less. The stress levels of educators is incredibly high and leading to quite a bit of burnout. Even in Littleton, we're losing people from the profession to do other things that are less stressful or more financially lucrative. We can't go any further. We're at the end of our rope dealing with these funding problems.”
Teachers at 18 LPS schools held a “walk-in” on the morning of April 16, meaning they rallied streetside before the start of the school day, waving protest signs at parents dropping their kids off. The rallies concluded at the sound of the first bell, and the school day proceeded as normal.
“Like people in many places, we're frustrated by the amount of spending on education,” Crosby said. “The difference in Colorado is we can't have our Legislature raise taxes to support education or anything else. We need to raise awareness of these problems right now, because it'll be the people who decide to make a change.”
The bottom line is the desire to create a nurturing learning environment for students, said Kathy Stocking, a first-grade teacher at Runyon Elementary School.
“I've got 28 students in my class this year,” Stocking said. “I'd really like that to be down around 20. More kids means fewer times a child gets to share or have one-on-one time with a teacher.”
Hiring and retaining teachers is becoming more difficult, Crosby said, because starting salaries are low and young teachers may burn out after a few years.
Jenna Southern, a special-education teacher at Runyon, said stagnant state funding is impacting her ability to provide for the kids she teaches.
“We've had the same amount of funding for the last seven years, but we're getting more and more kids in the program,” Southern said. “Our case load numbers are growing. We want to be able to service our children's educational needs, and it's getting more difficult. We need more support staff so kids can get what they need.”
Pay rates mean many young teachers struggle to get by in a place with high housing costs, said Trudy Meisinger, Runyon's principal.
“The cost of living in Colorado is ridiculous,” Meisinger said. “How can we expect teachers right out of college, or even those with a few years' experience, to be able to live in this city?”
Enabling teachers to live near their schools impacts students too, Crosby said.
“If you live near where you teach, you have an easier time sponsoring or coaching at the school, and you have better connections with students,” Crosby said. “With housing costs around here, as well as with teachers facing down hefty student loans, they often have to live far away or with multiple roommates.”
Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Brian Ewert expressed support for the rallies in an email to parents on April 16.
“LPS employs outstanding teachers, and I supported their efforts this morning,” Ewert's email read in part. “I want to thank our teachers for their attention to these important issues that not only adversely affect teachers, but also every student and family in LPS.”
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