Summit County teachers join thousands in Denver to demand education funding, pension protection
DENVER — Thousands of Colorado teachers took class to Denver’s streets Friday during a statewide walkout to demand education funding restoration and pension protection. Teachers from nearly 30 Colorado school districts attended the walkout, which shut down school for over 600,000 students.
The crowd of teachers congregated at the Civic Center amphitheater before marching in the shadow of the state Capitol’s golden dome. They wore red T-shirts and waved signs with slogans like “WTF (Where’s The Funds?)” and “Ignorance is Expensive.” The primary point of contention for teachers is $822 million in funding being withheld from Colorado’s public schools. Teachers were also concerned about proposed changes to the Public Employee Retirement Association pension fund.
130 Summit School District teachers participated in the walkout. Among the group attending the rally in Denver was Summit County Education Association member and Summit High School math teacher Kim Phipps. Phipps was very pleased with the turnout.
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“It’s been pretty inspiring.” Phipps said. “I think it’s amazing that all these teachers from all over the state came down here to work to support our students, it’s pretty incredible.”
Phipps acknowledged that Summit’s teachers had it better than a lot of districts across the state.
“A lot of classrooms in other districts are significantly more impacted by the funding cuts than ours in Summit County,” Phipps said. “There are lots of teachers who work multiple jobs, have left jobs teaching because they get paid more at Wal-Mart. What we would really like is for the Colorado House and Senate to come up with a four-year plan to pay off the budget stabilization factor, and fully fund the schools like the constitution says they need to.”
Another Summit teacher attending was Jotwan Daniels, who teaches high school social studies. Daniels said he and other teachers participated in the walkout to get the funding that will make Colorado’s schools, and its students, more competitive.
“I really want recognition that if we want our children to be competitive in a growing global 21st century marketplace, then we need to increase our funding,” Daniels said. “With how much our economy is growing in Colorado, our education funding should be growing along with it.”
Emily Galvin, who teaches Spanish at Dillon Valley Elementary, said that teachers were also looking to protect their PERA pensions from turning into privatized contribution plans.
“One of the ways we recruit the kind of people who become really great teachers is the fact we have a defined benefit plan,” Galvin said. “That plan attracts the kind of people who are responsible, the kind of people we want to teach our children. But these big hedge funds are behind the push to change defined benefits into defined contributions, and that hurts public employees.”
Summit High juniors Alfonso and Natalie joined their teachers to speak at the rally. They both wanted to send the message that students support their teachers in their fight for school funding.
“We don’t get necessary funding to educate in the arts as well as get the necessary resources,” Natalie said. “Compared to other cities and school districts, we’re very privileged in the fact that the community brings money in for things like construction, but other schools aren’t provided with those kind of resources, and we want all schools to be fully funded.”
Alfonso said that he also wanted to make it clear that he and other students appreciate their teachers, and don’t appreciate how the state is withholding funding.
“I support all my teachers and the job they do. We wouldn’t be the people we are without the values that they taught us every day,” Alfonso said. “If I had a chance to speak to a legislator, I would tell them that we should be putting more money into schools than taking out.”
At the end of the day, Daniels said that he and other Colorado public school teachers felt they had the strength in numbers they need to get the change they’re seeking from the state.
“The fact that all these teachers were willing to take a personal day or a day without pay to get our voices heard is amazing,” Daniels said. “As a social studies teacher I believe very much in collective action and strength in numbers. Personally, it’s been amazing feeling that solidarity and strength, and I hope we can continue to build upon this. This is a movement, not a moment.”
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