More to the Story of Teachers

We appreciate that the Colorado legislature has passed legislation to study why our state has a teacher shortage.  We noted lots of praise for this “first step” to seek a resolution to this growing problem, nationally, that now plagues our state’s public schools.   But we have to wonder if many of us who follow and advocate for public education don’t already truly know what the results of this study will find.

We don’t think there will be any big surprises, and the results of this study will confirm the teacher shortage is just part of the real issue, our state severely underfunds public education.  

It’s pretty clear from some of the recent stories about teachers in rural counties that our small rural school districts are unable to offer a competitive salary compared to the larger school districts (along the front range).  Some rural school districts have even had representatives recruiting teachers out-of-state.

But rural school districts aren’t alone in that issue.  Here in Jeffco, we’ve suffered from being a low-paying district (compared to other metro districts); and it caused us to lose a lot of teachers on top of the many who had already fled the district during the devastation inflicted on the district by WNW (our previous board majority, recalled by 65% of the voters).

It’s an interesting disease we are plagued with.   We want and desperately need more teachers, yet as a state, we aren’t willing to invest more dollars in public education that would enable us to pay our education professionals what they are worth.

Teachers, in most cases (with the possible exceptions of school districts where they’ve been successful with mill levy overrides such as Boulder and Denver), are seriously underpaid.

Colorado ranks –

50th in teacher wage competitiveness—compares teachers to non-teachers with similar education, experience and hours worked

But there’s more to this story.

Over the past several years, the teaching profession has been the target of a variety of special interest groups who have made demeaning teachers part of their plan to weaken our public education system.

  • Starving public education by opposing legislation to increase public education funding.
  • Disrespecting the profession – especially those teaching professionals who chose to be members of their professional association.  How many times have you heard someone call a member of the Bar Association or American Medical Association a Union Thug?

We know of few teachers who haven’t had to provide many of their own class supplies – that includes providing supplies for some underprivileged students – and not just school supplies, but sometimes this includes food and clothing.

Stop and think about it, our students’ learning environment is our teachers’ working environment:

Teachers who work in those school districts where they have not been able to pass mill levy overrides or bonds in recent years, work in a range of conditions that are sometimes unsafe and unhealthy – for both students and teachers.

Most recently, there’s been the concern of finding lead in the water in many of our schools (Jeffco has been working to fix this problem for the past year plus, Denver Public Schools are addressing this problem now).

How many accountants, computer programmers, doctors, or lawyers do you know who would continue to work for an organization that had difficulty providing water in their work space that was lead-free?

What about being able to make sure their work space was cool during the hot months of the year and warm during the cold months of the year, at least the majority of the time?

How many of those professionals would continue to work for an organization if they found they needed to bring their own professional tools (technical) and supplies; as well as provide for those they would be working with because many of them did not have any, or those who did were of substandard quality?

Or what if they found they needed to bring food or clothing for part of the people in their organization?

What if these professionals were required to achieve a certain level of measured success but told they would have to do it with little to no funding for the appropriate tools, etc. – unless, of course, they were able to apply for a grant, use their own time to apply for a grant, and are one of the few successful winners of a grant?

This list goes on, and we have to scratch our heads about this study. We think the answer is pretty obvious since we talk to educators all the time.  The real question is, once the study officially determines what the real issues are causing our teacher shortage, how will the Legislature act on that? Teaching isn’t as simple as throwing someone with a degree into a classroom with 30 kids.

If you have any opportunity to attend one of the Town Halls being conducted as part of this study, please advocate for better funding of our public schools.   At the bottom of this article is a schedule of those events, a staffer at CDE has promised to update the metro area date soon.

“Despite graduating 25% fewer education majors from Colorado universities than in the past, school districts across the state have to fill 3,000 vacancies this coming year. Low teacher pay only exacerbates the problem, especially in rural areas.”

“They love teaching in the community, they love working with the students there, but they simply cannot afford housing,” says Amie Baca-Oehlert, Vice President of the Colorado Education Association.”

Here’s a list of other scheduled town halls:

  • Parachute – June 23
  • Fort Collins – July 28
  • Denver – July 31 or August 1 (TBD)
  • Leadville – August 2
  • Colorado Springs – August 7
  • Otis – August 10
  • Ignacio – August 14 or 15 (TBD)
  • Limon – August 17 or 18 (TBD)
  • Las Animas – August 21