As a high school guidance counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association (CEA), I have seen up close and personal the promise of education and what it means for students, families and our society. However, a paradox between our state’s current prosperity and underfunding of schools hurts us all.
Imagine if Colorado’s support for education matched its thriving economy. If Colorado could break the shackles of chronic underfunding of education, and then wisely use its resources to attract and retain high-quality educators, we could awaken a Sleeping Giant by providing the very best education possible for every student.
As the 2019 Colorado General Assembly began, we at CEA listened to opening day speeches and inaugural addresses and attended a host of legislative breakfasts. Everyone is placing education at the top of the agenda. Republicans and Democrats are all talking about the importance of a robust education system. Education should not be a partisan issue.
CEA has three main priorities as the Colorado Legislature convenes this session:
- We want to fund classrooms instead of giving away millions in tax breaks to for-profit corporations.
- Policies and solutions should be focused on students and led by educators—not administrators—with more mental health support for students and educators.
- We must attract and retain high-quality educators, which relates back to the funding issue.
Our agenda has not changed from this past spring when 17,000 educators, along with students and community members, marched on the state Capitol and joined their colleagues in states including Arizona, West Virginia and Kentucky. Additionally, more than 100 educators rallied on opening day of this legislative session.
We understand that a strong business climate creates a healthy economy on which we rely. But that is just the point: We have one of the strongest economies in the country, and yet we have one of the lowest-funded school systems. Colorado ranks at $2,800 below the national average for per-pupil funding. Teachers spend an average of $656 out of their own pockets to support their students and classrooms.
This disparity is the Colorado Education Paradox: Unparalleled economic prosperity alongside schools that are starving for resources and thirsty for respect.
Speaking of respect, we are encouraging legislators to commit to changing the teacher evaluation system. Evaluation should be an asset that helps educators succeed, not a bludgeon.
If teachers were respected and valued more, then we likely wouldn’t be facing the shortage of teachers we now experience. Thousands of positions are unfilled. Educators need more autonomy and authority in directing how our time is best spent in the classroom. Attracting teachers means eliminating unfunded mandates and providing a strong and equitable retirement.
Another priority is more support to address the academic, physical and mental health of students. As a guidance counselor, I’ve seen how the pressures of high-stakes testing and how the lack of support can harm students at a time when they need support the most.
We know that together we can all raise the quality of education in Colorado. We stand ready to join with Republicans, Democrats, the business community, the Colorado State Board of Education and every school district across the state to create a better K–12 system. We all know we can do better.
Let us imagine a day when educators are appreciated as highly trained professionals, are continually engaged in professional development, are equipped with the latest technology and are compensated as other professionals of the same caliber.
What if educators had the support they need to help their students thrive just as our state’s economy is thriving? Together we could solve the Colorado Education Paradox.
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