With Teacher Appreciation Week just around the corner, two of Colorado’s highly educated legislators are showing just how much they appreciate teachers in the Centennial State. In fact, Sen. Bob Gardner from Colorado Springs and State Rep. Paul Lundeen from Monument love and respect teachers so much, they’re offering jail time to any teacher who even thinks about spending his or her hard-earned, paid time off to “induce, instigate, encourage, authorize ratify or participate” in any sort of teacher strike.
All this comes just days before more than a dozen school districts plan to close school as teachers descend on the state Capitol to lobby for more school funding, better pay and protections for their retirement plans.
But as the public outcry against Gardner and Lundeen’s bill continues to grow, we can’t blame the lack of teacher support on our legislators alone.
Sure it’s easy—really easy—to daemonize legislators who want to jail teachers for going on strike, but “we the people” have to ask ourselves how we have contributed to the circumstances that are pushing our teachers out of the classroom in the first place. The fact is our legislators can’t fully fund schools or approve raises in salary without the help of voting taxpayers. Despite their efforts to set aside $150 million for public schools in the state budget next year, there’s still an estimated $674 million that schools will miss out on due to the state’s budget stabilization or negative factor, which is essentially the difference between what the state spends on school funding and what it’s required to provide. This difference is basically the legislature’s way of generating budget savings after the required funding adjustments have been allocated to districts based on inflation and enrollment.
To return this money back to schools, legislators have proposed a $1.6 billion tax increase. But it’s the voters and local school boards who have the power to make sure that money ends up in the hands of teachers and the schools where they teach.
And we have to own the fact that the last two times legislators asked us to to play our part in funding our schools with a statewide tax increase, we said “no.” Instead, we continue to dedicate one week a year to post about how much “We 💗 Teachers.” But the minute they organize to fight for what they need and deserve, some of us ridicule them online, question whether they should be using their time more wisely and allow them to advocate for our kids all on their own. The real question now is whether or not we can back up our lovingly-superficial emojis with enough real money for teachers to provide students a quality education, with equitable resources, on a decent salary.
So yes, it’s ludicrous to even consider placing teachers in handcuffs for going on strike.
But we’ve all collectively expected them to perform a magic act similar to the great Houdini handcuff trick. “Close the achievement gap and prepare all students for the future,” we say. “And feed them, protect them, be a mentor, a coach, a therapist, and a parent”—all with a state per pupil funding that ranks 31st in the nation and an average annual salary nearly $14K below the national average.
While most seem to think Gardner and Lundeen’s bill has no chance of passing, the introduction alone is fueling an anti-teacher sentiment that—make no mistake—is daring teachers to force us to imagine a world without them.
And to be clear, not a single Coloradoan holding the honor of public office or employment in the private sector would be where they are today if it weren’t for a teacher.
So where’s the respect? Where’s the support for these selfless individuals who have dedicated their own careers to ensure the rest of us can have one? With an increase in ed funding and the introduction of a new School Finance Act, legislators would say the support now lies in our hands. State Rep. Brittany Pettersen, who chairs the House Education Committee makes it pretty clear:
“We need to support our teachers, and we need to support our schools, and we need you to ensure not only that we pass the bills that we are bringing this session, but that we unite this November to ensure our kids are put first in Colorado.”
It’s been 24 years since teachers in Denver went on strike, and if they’ve learned anything recently from teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and now Arizona, it’s that they hold just as much power in the classroom as they do out of the classroom.
But in Colorado, everyday residents like you and me have the ability to empower them even more. So whether you’re a parent with school-aged children, a wannabe parent with “someday” children, or anyone over the age of 18 who used to be one of those school-aged children, it’s time to think about our community’s kids and really show teachers how much we appreciate what they do all year long.
So before you fire off another tweet or or show your disdain for Sen. Gardner and State Rep. Lundeen with that 😠 emoji, think about how your own actions will support teachers this week, next week and well into the fall.
And if you need help remembering what that does and does not look like, read, write and repeat:
I will not ridicule teachers for walking out in support of more funding for our kids.
I will not ask teachers if they could be using their time at the state Capitol more wisely.
I will not consider teachers greedy or selfish for fighting for a respectable salary.
I will not shame teachers for wanting fair protections for their retirement plans.
I will not condone throwing teachers in jail for striking in support of all of the above.
I will not let teachers fight for the betterment of our society and themselves, by themselves, one day more.
Correction: This post has been corrected to reflect updated data regarding Colorado’s national rank relative to school funding.
Photo Credit: David Zalubowski, Associated Press