Thousands more teachers protest at state Capitol
Showing in Denver included Roaring Fork Schools contingent
DENVER — Thousands of teachers protested at the Colorado state Capitol for increased school funding Friday, winning support but so far no new action from lawmakers wrapping up their work for the year.
The latest gathering of teachers — the largest of three this month — led to classes being canceled in about two dozen districts, including Denver. The tone was more festive, with a jazz band warming up the crowd by leading them in songs like “Marching on to Freedom Land.” Teachers danced along, while others kept some beach balls bouncing over the crowd at Civic Center Park before marching over to the Capitol.
Gov. John Hickenlooper briefly addressed them, promising that he and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who is running for the Democratic nomination to replace him, would push to restore the approximately $1 billion shifted from education to the rest of the state’s budget during the recession. During his speech, some teachers shouted over the term-limited governor by saying things like “We want more” and “Action not words” but many applauded him at the end.
The state’s largest teachers union and organizer of the rallies, the Colorado Education Association, has endorsed former state treasurer Cary Kennedy for the Democratic nomination. She drew cheers when she called for a change to the state’s strict tax-and-spending limits.
Some Democratic state lawmakers also joined teachers on the steps of the Colorado Capitol for an afternoon rally where National Education Association vice president Becky Pringle scolded lawmakers for giving tax breaks to corporations but “leaving our babies to beg for whatever’s left” for education. She called on teachers to keep fighting and to restore education funding.
Denver teacher Gerardo Munoz urged teachers not to let the rally be the end of their activism, telling them to speak at school board meetings, call their lawmakers and write letters to the editor.
The Colorado Education Association is also asking its members to help get an initiative that would raise taxes on people with taxable incomes over $125,000 to provide more money for education on November’s ballot.
Lawmakers have agreed to give schools their largest budget increase since the recession but the teachers’ union wants them to repay the rest of what they say was wrongly taken from schools during the recession over the next four years. Lawmakers, who are not able to raise taxes on their own under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, say they have done all they can with the money available.
Heidi Scolari, a middle school art school teacher in Eaton, made a point about the efforts some school districts go through to raise extra money by marching with a yard sign once used for her small rural district’s annual mattress sale fundraiser. One side pointed out that Bill Gates didn’t have to sell mattress to pay for his education; On the back it said “It’s time, Colorado.”
Even if the demonstrations don’t lead to immediate changes, she said there was still a reason to speak out now.
“To make our voices heard and let them know we’re sick of it,” she said of the state’s education funding.
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Former Carbondale trustee Katrina Byars said she wants to bring a voice of environmental sustainability to the commission, and believes her opponent has served long enough.