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teachers and support staff didn’t have what we needed – and we’re still overwhelmed with excessive class sizes, outdated materials and paychecks that often don’t even pay the bills.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.