Funding, teacher retention, and safety biggest issues Colorado educators aim to fix, according to statewide report
The Aspen Times
A state of education report released by the Colorado Education Association, which is the state’s largest teachers union, revealed challenges and concerns facing today’s educators. The biggest issues addressed were funding, teacher shortages, and safety.
Public schools can’t operate without funding, and, although Coloradans pride themselves on being progressive and championing inclusion and the public good, CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert said the state’s budget tells a different story when it comes to education.
“We live every single day as educators with an understanding of how budgets oftentimes are not reflecting the values that are expressed by so many who say they support public education,” she said.
Colorado educators make 35.9% less than a comparable educated professional, according to the report. Brooke Williams, Jefferson County education association president, said they have seen many educators leave the profession, which causes an increased workload for the remaining educators.
“We really want to see an investment in our educators, so that we can support our students and give them the education that they deserve and attract and retain our educators,” she said.
Both physical and mental safety were addressed in the report, as well. According to Baca-Ohlert, the three most often cited factors harming the well being of students and educators are lack of mental-health support, lack of LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion, and preponderance of access to firearms.
Kacey Ellis, president of the Cherry Creek Education Association and a middle-school teacher, said they recently had 14 teachers complete mental-health and first-aid training through the state. The goal of the training was to aid in identifying educators who may be struggling and help them to access mental-health strategies.
“We are caretakers, and we want to take care of our students, and we neglect to take care of ourselves; and, oftentimes, we hit a crisis point we don’t realize (that) we’re there,” said Ellis. “This training really helped myself and the other 13 people who trained with me to see early symptoms and maybe be able to intervene early.”
According to Baca-Ohlert, 85% of LGBTQ+ educators are not out at school or in the workplace.
“Though our focus is on educators, it’s important to understand that these statistics on how welcome or unwelcome our LGBTQ+ educators feel at their schools provides a mirror for how our LGBTQ-plus students feel at their schools, as well,” she said.
Dave Lockley, president of the District 12 Educators Association and an Adams 12 school district social-studies teacher, said many staff are not comfortable coming out because of the lack of systems and structures in place to support staff and build an inclusive environment.
The release of the report also revealed that 67% of educators are “very” or “somewhat worried” about a mass shooting at their school. Of the educators surveyed, 69% said that they would not feel safer if they were allowed to carry a gun.
“The vast majority answered that educators would like their schools to prioritize more mental-health supports, as opposed to hardening the school situation,” said Kevin Vick, vice president of CEA and a social-studies teacher in the Colorado Springs area.
Although progress has been made over the years, Baca-Ohlert said there is still a lot of work to be done.
Rep. Meghan Lukens, a Democrat from Steamboat Springs, is co-sponsoring a bill that would streamline the process to make Colorado teacher licensing more efficient for educators coming from out of state.
“We can come together as Coloradans, as policymakers to do better for the students and educators of Colorado. And, that is where we look to setting forth our legislative priorities on the things that we can do to change these statistics around and to ensure that all our students and educators have the schools that they deserve,” she said.
To reach Audrey Ryan, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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