If you think back to April of 2018, you may remember a sea of red-shirt-clad teachers, armed with creative signage and megaphones, storming the state Capitol to demand an increase in their salaries. They lobbied lawmakers, sat in the hallways, and sang “We’re Not Gonna Take It” under the Golden Dome.
The only problem? Our legislature doesn’t set teacher salaries.
You have to feel nothing but sorrow for a group that is intentionally misdirected by their union to storm a government building that has no authority or ability to fulfill their demands. Indeed, the salaries of our educators are set by local school districts – all 178 of them. Understandably, that reality may not be the perfect setting for a massive display of force – and it may not play well with campaign promises many candidates made this last election.
Obviously, if the state government gives additional funding to our districts, then they can use those funds to better pay their teachers. But, if the recent Denver teachers’ strike is any indication, it doesn’t seem they are reaping those rewards. Based on what Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar reported earlier this year, it seems that administrative staffing is getting a boost while the teacher corps (and their paychecks) are being left behind.
So, if the question is “how can the legislature put more money into the pockets of our teachers?” then one doesn’t have to look very hard to see the solutions that Senate Republicans brought forth during the last legislative session.
The BSF and teacher pay
Minority Leader Chris Holbert (R-Douglas County) outlined paying down half of the Budget Stabilization Factor (BSF) – approximately $336 million – during his opening day speech this year. With increased revenues of around $1 billion this year, Senate Republicans wanted to prioritize paying down the factor while the revenues existed.
For those unaware – the Budget Stabilization Factor (BSF) is a mathematical calculation of how much our public schools are “owed” since cuts were made during the Great Recession of 2008. Every dollar put into the BSF goes directly to school districts who are able to allocate the funding as they see fit – no strings attached.
These funding priorities were nothing new for Republicans. In 2018, when Republicans controlled the State Senate, Gov. John Hickenlooper asked for $100 million to be put towards the BSF, and they answered with $150 million. Money directed towards the BSF goes directly to those 178 districts previously mentioned – money that could be used to increase teacher salaries.
Instead – Democrats only put $102 million towards the BSF – just above two thirds of what the state put into it last session with Republican control of the Senate.
Senator Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) brought forth Senate Bill 60, which would have increased the tax credit for educators who purchase supplies for their classroom by $500. Colorado has heard and seen for years that teachers go above and beyond to provide for their students, and this solution would’ve been a way to provide some of that money back to them. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats killed this bill in committee.
Senator Paul Lundeen (R-Monument) introduced Senate Bill 22, which would have potentially provided $2,000 bonuses to the approximately 50% of Colorado teachers considered “highly effective” via a grant program. Again, Republican lawmakers wanted to adhere to the principle of local control while putting money directly in the pockets of Colorado teachers. While the legislature cannot set teachers’ salaries, it can craft grant programs to give them bonuses. Senate Bill 22 bill was also killed by Senate Democrats in committee.
All three of these proposals adhered to the constitutional principle of local control while still putting money directly into the pockets of our valued educators – yet why were none considered by Senate Democrats? Senate Bill 60 even garnered support from the Colorado Education Association – and trust me, it’s not every day that we see the union and Sen. Owen Hill in the same dugout.
According to a recent Magellan Strategies poll, 74% of Coloradans feel that teachers are underpaid, making this issue one that spans political parties and geographic boundaries. While continual investments have been made into our public schools, it doesn’t seem that those dollars have found their way to our teachers. Similarly, while Democrats in the legislature talk a big game on putting more dollars into teachers’ pockets, those promises haven’t found their way to actual results.
Democrats may have cornered the market on rhetoric, but Republicans are focused on results, and in 2019, Republicans stepped up to the plate for Colorado teachers.
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