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We Have the People Power

We Have the People Power

The last two years have seemed and felt like ten. Prior to 2020, we were facing problems like chronic underfunding, the beginnings of a great educator exodus, attacks from those wishing to dismantle public education, and attacks from those wishing to destroy unions not only in our state but across the country.

I guess none of that was enough because in March 2020, the universe decided we needed a global pandemic. And then in 2021, the universe gave us relentless attacks on our profession, a concerted effort to roll back all of the racial and social justice rights that have been achieved over the last 50 years and extremist school board candidates pushing these attacks. But through it all, we’ve shown the world that when we join together, we are unstoppable.

Whenever I finish a 16-hour day and then have to be a mom and a wife, when I lay my head down at night, I’m comforted by the fact that I have the privilege of working side by side with teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, bus drivers, food service workers and many others across the state. This gives me hope — that we are on the right path to making public education as great as it can be because our students are counting on us.

We don’t have the vast resources that our opposition has but we have the momentum in public opinion and we have the people power of over 39,000 members across Colorado. We have the subject matter experts and we have the people who are committed to their professions. We have the trust and confidence of parents. We have the love and support of our students. All of which, our opposition does not have. But we need to harness our collective power because our opposition is raising money and firing up their base like never before.

We must remember that we’re in this for the long haul. And election season is approaching fast. The 2021 elections were a reminder that elections matter and bad elections can give us bad school boards. We need to come together to make sure we elect pro-public education candidates who care about our public schools and whose words match actions.

In a world where obstacles are continually put in front of us, we must rise to the challenge of advocating for the public schools our students, their families and our fellow educators deserve. When we advocate together, we know that we will be successful. The power of our union is the power of us.

I wish you rest and rejuvenation over the summer and I look forward to coming back together in the fall, fired up and ready to go for our students, our professions, and public education.

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the CEA.

CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert rallies with New America School educators

The Highs and Lows of the 2022 Legislative Session

The Highs and Lows of the 2022 Legislative Session

It’s May and that means two things: the school year is winding down and the Colorado Legislative Session has reached its conclusion. This was the first full, in-person Legislative Session since 2019.

This was a challenging legislative session in many ways, but we are proud of the collective work of the over 39,000 members of the CEA who helped us to victory on several important pieces of legislation and helped us defeat other harmful bills. Overall, in this legislative session, we were able to make significant advances for students, educators and public education.

Our Legislative Priorities heading into session were focused on the following:

  • Collective Bargaining
  • Funding
  • PERA
  • Accountability Bridge

For more on our pre-legislative session priorities, please visit our State of Education report, which was published in December 2021.

Here is a summary of the bills that the Colorado Education Association were involved with in the 2022 Legislative Session:

House Bill (HB) 22-1029, Compensatory Direct Distribution to Public Employees’ Retirement Association. CEA supported this bill, sponsored by Reps. Shannon Bird, Shane Sandridge, Sens. Chris Kolker and Kevin Priola, because it would recommit the state’s 2020 missed payment into the PERA system of $225 million. Additionally, the legislature is adding an additional $155 million as a pre-payment.

HB22-1066, Public Education Curriculum and Professional Development. CEA helped defeat this bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Geitner, which was a draconian solution in search of a problem — educators and schools are already incredibly transparent about their curriculum. This bill would have put burdensome requirements on already overworked and exhausted educators. CEA was able to defeat this policy at the state legislature and from getting on the ballot.

HB22-1069, Parent Authority to Request Public School Reforms. Another bill CEA helped defeat, sponsored by Rep. Rod Bockenfeld and Sen. Kevin Priola, was part of a nationwide campaign labeled as “parent’s rights”. Instead, they are, in essence, tactics that serve to undermine and dismantle public education and further sow distrust of educators and school leaders, at the expense of what best serves our students.

HB22-1106, Concealed Handguns on School Grounds. The annual gun bill, introduced every session, was defeated by a reasonable coalition of stakeholders who know that the answer to ending gun violence in schools is not the addition of more guns in schools. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Neville, was defeated in the House Committee on State, Civic, Military, & Veterans Affairs.

HB22-1203, Income Tax Credits for Nonpublic Education. This is one of many voucher bills CEA defeated this session. While the bills took different approaches, they were all an effort to privatize public education. And while it may prove useful to some students, these bills failed to provide a solution for all of the 900,000 students that are part of our public education system. In short, it is another scheme to take from the many and give to the few. This bill was sponsored by Rep. Ron Hanks and was soundly defeated in the House Education committee.

HB22-1206, Prohibit Discriminatory Practices in Schools. This is another bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Williams, that was defeated and is part of a nationwide campaign to distract from the very real issues our schools continue to face. These bills do nothing to address the very real problems that need to be addressed to support our students and our educators. This bill is about politics. It is an attempt by certain members of this legislative body to rewrite our shared history in a way that isn’t an honest and complete reflection of events that have shaped our nation and our state.

HB22-1207, Choice in Low-Performing School Districts. This is another voucher bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Woog, that was defeated in the House Education committee.

HB22-1236, Parent’s Bill of Rights. This is another bill from the “parents’ rights” movement, sponsored by Rep. Tonya Van Beber, that was defeated in the House Committee on Health & Insurance.

HB22-1329, the Long Bill. The School Finance Act, HB22-1390 sets a statewide base per pupil for 2022-23 at $7,478, an increase by $252, which accounts for 3.5% inflation. It sets total program funding for 2022-23 to be no less than $8.4B. This is after the current Budget Stabilization factor impact, which is $321M after the buydown of $182M this year. In addition to a significant buy down of the BS Factor, CEA demanded a clean School Finance Act and was successfully able to push back against the inclusion of harmful and unrelated policies in the bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 22-039, Funding for Educational Opportunities. This is another voucher bill, sponsored by Sens. Paul Lundeen and Barbara Kirkmeyer, that was soundly defeated by CEA in the Senate Education Committee.

SB22-069, Learning Disruption Effect on Teacher Evaluation. Sponsored by Sen. Tammy Story, Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Meg Froelich, this bill will provide educators a two year grace period against high stakes testing being used against their evaluations and ensure that educators are not held accountable for poor academic growth measures resulting from the pandemic emergency. Disruptions to learning during the pandemic did and will continue to have an impact on student performance and educators should not be held responsible for circumstances entirely outside of their control.

SB22-070, Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade Licensed Personnel Performance Evaluations. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bridges and Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Julie McCluskie, is the result of the Governor’s 2019 stakeholder process and represents a compromise reform. While it does not go as far as CEA and many members would like, this bill does reduce the percentage of an educator’s evaluation that can be based off of student growth measures from 50% to 30%, as well as provides modified evaluation rubrics and additional resources for districts, among other things. CEA worked hard with the Governor’s Office and the sponsors to add additional beneficial provisions including an educator’s ability to request a different evaluator and consideration for the chronic absenteeism of their students. While there is more to be done in this space, SB22-70 represents a good step forward and will provide some immediate relief to CEA members.

SB22-071, Learning Pods for Home-School Programs. This is another “parents’ rights” bill, sponsored by Sen. Rob Woodward, that was soundly defeated in the Senate Education Committee.

SB22-137, Transition Back to Standard K-12 Accountability. Sponsored by Sens. Rachel Zenzinger and Don Coram and Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Mary Young, this bill would make adjustments to the school accountability system to make sure hundreds of schools aren’t unfairly placed on the accountability clock due to insufficient data. SB 22-137 passed earlier in the session and was signed by the Governor on April 13, 2022.

SB22-171, Privacy Protections for Educators. Educators have increasingly been on the receiving end of bitter political vitriol that has become common across the state and nation. Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Bridges and Kevin Priola and Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Cathy Kipp, this bill will protect educators from doxing by members of the public. It will also prohibit school districts from releasing the dates of sick leave taken by educators to address situations like what happened in Douglas County.

SB22-230, Collective Bargaining for Counties. We are disappointed that we will not see a collective bargaining bill that provides protected rights to educators across Colorado. However, we can also say that we are proud that we stood strong against settling for just anything, and we held strong to the principles put forward by the CEA Board of Directors. We ensured that nothing would move forward that would diminish the current rights of public school educators. From the beginning, we knew that this would be a heavy lift and that passing a broad collective bargaining bill could be something that would take more than one legislative session. We remain committed to continuing to work on educating and advocating to the Governor, legislative leaders and legislators about the need for a uniform statewide collective bargaining law until a collective bargaining law exists for all educators. This narrowed bill, sponsored by Sens. Steve Fenberg and Dominick Moreno and Rep. Daneya Esgar passed both chambers and headed to the Governor’s desk for signature.

SJR22-011, Parents’ Right to be Involved in Child’s Education. This is another “parents’ rights” bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Gardner and Rep. Tonya Van Beber, that was defeated in the Senate Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs.

This session truly was a mix of highs and lows and we didn’t get everything we wanted. We did, however, make life better for Colorado students, their families and educators all across the state.

Let’s take a breather, regroup and gear up for the midterm elections so we can help elect pro-public education candidates in the fall who will stand with us as we continue to advocate for the schools that all students and educators deserve.

From the CEA President: Your Voice Matters

The second semester of the school year often brings a lot of excitement and things to look forward to: prom, spring break, graduations. It is also the time of year when the Legislature is in full swing and with that comes a lot of opportunity to use our educator voices. This year, however, it is shadowed by an overwhelmed workforce that is facing obstacle after obstacle – a devastating fire that upended thousands of students’
and educators’ lives, an ongoing and ever changing global pandemic, and extremist school boards taking dangerous actions to dismantle public education.

Though we are all tired, we will not give up. It has been empowering to see our brothers and sisters in Douglas County take collective action to stand against the harmful actions of the local school board majority. We have seen our members do the same in places where the same dangerous agenda is being pushed: Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Estes Park and Pueblo 70 to name a few. Recent history gives us good lessons on what is needed to win to save our public schools and we are committed to this fight. Our colleagues, our students and our profession deserve nothing less.

What’s been happening around our state is a great reminder of the need to win on our legislative priorities this year. The bill that will expand collective bargaining rights for all public employees, including educators, is needed now more than ever. It is clear that one election gone wrong can rip away the ability of educators to have a voice in our working conditions and the learning conditions of our students.

Certain politicians and wealthy special interests opposed to public schools have chipped away at state education funding and then turned around to point their fingers at educators as the reason our students are struggling. What they conveniently ignore is that they’ve strapped schools with an over $10 billion deficit in education funding over the last 10 years. That means students aren’t getting the education they deserve because educators don’t have the resources they need.

Even before the COVID pandemic, teachers and support staff didn’t have what we needed – and we’re still overwhelmed with excessive class sizes, outdated materials and paychecks that often don’t even pay the bills. Exponentially increasing workloads and bitter political vitriol over health, safety and history curriculum are causing intense educator burnout. There’s no surprise that the lack of funding, inadequate
conditions and burnout has led to a critical educator shortage. As educators from across the state flee the profession, Colorado is struggling mightily to replace them.

Colorado educators know exactly how to stop the downward spiral of our education system – after all, we are the ones in classrooms, cafeterias, buses and schools every day, guiding students through academic and personal hardships. The public knows this – nearly 3 out of 4 Colorado voters voice positive feelings toward teachers. But instead of valuing the expertise and knowledge of educators, those seeking to radically change and privatize schools know the easiest path to destroying public education is when education professionals don’t have a voice.

Your educator voice matters and that is why they are trying to silence you. But we will not be silent when it comes to our students and our profession.

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the CEA.

For Some ESPs, TLCC Access is Overdue

It’s early in the New Year and the holidays are behind me, but I’m feeling like a kid anticipating Santa’s arrival, delivering a much-desired gift. The Santa in this case is the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and the gift is the opportunity to finally take part in the Teaching and Learning Conditions in Colorado (TLCC) survey. I’ve been an educator for as long as the survey has been around, but I’ve never been able to take it because the voice of education support professionals (ESPs) has been excluded – until now.

Turn back the clock to two years ago, the last time the survey was conducted. My paraeducator colleagues and I would hear about the survey as it got under way. We would see our teacher colleagues and administrators receive survey access as Association Representatives made the rounds of our schools. We would ask to participate as we have valuable input to share about what the survey was measuring. And the answer was always the same: Sorry, but you aren’t allowed to take the survey. It was disappointing. It was disheartening. And it needed to change.

Enter the CEA ESP Advisory Council, composed of ESP leaders from around the state. We decided to take action and wrote a proposed New Business Item, which received support. The work for impactful change was under way. CEA staff began drafting a proposed bill and securing sponsors for the legislation. Finally, the power of our voices was heard loud and clear during this past legislative session. ESPs from the Front Range to Durango testified before the House and Senate Education Committees, along with CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert. Lawmakers heard our stories and responded by passing the legislation. It was an
empowering win for ESPs, who often have to fight hard for the respect we deserve in many different instances.

ESPs further got to use their voice by participating in read aloud sessions with the consulting firm working with the Colorado Department of Education to develop the ESP specific survey questions. More than 100 CEA ESP members took time out of their busy lives to pilot the survey. And now, thousands of ESPs finally get a chance to elevate our voices in research and policy, and to be full participants in school and district
improvement statewide!

Our professional insight and input will help schools, districts, and state policymakers to better understand ESP working conditions, job satisfaction, and retention challenges. This is critical now more than ever as we know a majority of educators are seriously considering leaving the profession.

As I delivered the survey information and access codes to my paraeducator colleagues, telling them that we were being included for the first time, reactions were emphatic.

“Rightfully so!”

“It’s about time!”

When we use our voice, we accomplish great things! How will you use your voice this year? Make a plan now!

Jennifer Latham is a paraeducator and member of the Durango ESPA and the CEA Education Support Professional At-Large Director.

Member Spotlight: Zander Bednall

Zander Bednall, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, moved to Jefferson County 6 years ago and became a food service worker in Jefferson County School District. Although he wasn’t aware at the beginning, he
soon learned how low a priority healthy food is for students in Jeffco. With a grisly budget and an even grislier lack of nutritious options standing in the way, he made it a personal quest to find a way to provide access to free healthy food for all students. He’s organized many in his community, from teachers, to parents, to fellow ESPs to raise awareness that feeding our students what they deserve to eat is important to their education, and that profits from junk food sales have to stop.

Zander truly is an educator and takes his role as a food service worker very seriously. His first role working with kids was as a cook for a daycare. When he started working for Jeffco, he fell in love with the job and quickly found satisfaction in his work. Zander’s favorite thing in his work is teaching. He spends time teaching his students how to become conscious consumers and how to be sustainable. He believes that sharing the joy of cooking and eating healthy food with students is an important role for food service workers.

JESPA member Zander Bednall stands at a podium speaking

Zander decided to run for president of the Jefferson County Support Professionals Association (JESPA) food service local, Jefferson County School Food Services Association (JCSFSA) and became active with Coloradoans for the Common Good (CCG). He has led the effort to make sure healthy food for students is at the top of both JESPA’s and CCG’s list of priorities. He’s been working to organize coworkers to make
change in Jeffco. Zander’s now joined the JESPA bargaining team and plans to make sure food service workers’ voices are elevated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

He is a Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast, plays the drums in a metal band called Liontortoise, and is engaged to be married.

Zander Bednall is a food service worker in Jefferson County and a proud member of the Jefferson County Support Professionals Association.

We Deserve the Retirement Benefits We Were Promised

One benefit most educators in Colorado look forward to is their PERA (Public Employee Retirement Association) benefit. Our educators, whether they are early career, late career, or retired, do their share to make sure PERA is as sustainable as possible.

When I was an early career educator, retirement was only a dream but I had faith in the fact that I and my district contributed to a plan that would allow me to retire with dignity.

Sure enough, by the time I retired, I had a nice, guaranteed income that hopefully I can count on for the rest of my life.

There have been a few changes along the way: employee contributions have increased, retiree benefits do not increase as much as they did and employers must contribute a great deal more. Through it all, PERA has a plan to be fully funded and from an actuarial standpoint, I hope it is sustainable.

With educators leaving the profession earlier and not as many people going into it, I worry about PERA’s future. I trust the legislation that has been put in place to protect investments to keep PERA solvent. Senate Bill (SB) 18-200 increased the contributions and slowed down the payment increases but it also committed the State to contribute $225 million per year to shore up PERA. In the Spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the entire State budget had to be cut by several billion dollars and one of the first things to go was the $225 million PERA contribution. Fast forward to the next year and an upswing in the economy and the $225 million was put back in.

This session, Rep. Shannon Bird (HD35) is sponsoring a bill to reverse any damage that might have been done to the PERA investments in 2020. Not only does this bill recommend backfilling the $225 million lost that year, but also contributing the $60 million that was lost in interest for the year it was not invested.

It is always nice to have a legislator who has your back. If this bill passes, it will reap benefits for years to come and ensures those of us collecting our retirement checks from PERA will not have to worry about future retirement income. Please thank Rep. Bird for her advocacy. She can be reached at Shannon.bird.house@state.co.us.

Lori Goldsein is a retired special education teacher and president of CEA-Retired.