SOUTHERN COLORADO — Colorado teachers could see a rise in pay with a bill introduced in the state legislature.
Senate Bill 172 creates the educator pay raise fund which would help school districts, charter schools, and boards of cooperative services in increasing teacher salaries as well as the hourly wage of other employees.
"Anything that can fund teacher pay raises, and guarantee them over time in the future is going to be really beneficial," said Cari Fox, Academy School District 20 teacher and Pikes Peak Education Association.
She says pay continues to be a problem for many teachers in the state.
"I lost my house when I moved back to Colorado because my teacher's salary couldn't pay for a house payment, car payment, and insurance," said Fox. "I know teachers living in trailers in Vail, they take their showers at the YMCA because they can't afford to live in housing in Vail on their teacher salary."
According to the bill, the Colorado Department of Education reported the state had an average teacher salary of $57,700. For this school year, out of 178 school districts, all but 30 reported a minimum teacher salary of less than $40,000.
"In my district, it's $40,000 to start. I've been in the district for 16 years and I'm making $55,000 so if you've been here for a really long time, you've had six years of pay freezes that have never been made up," said Fox.
Senator Jessie Danielson, Wheat Ridge Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, says her legislation is needed more than ever with the growing number of educators leaving the field.
"What the pandemic has shown us is that we expect even more of these educators. So not only do we depend on them to give our kids the proper curriculum, but we expect them to be counselors, coaches, and babysitters from time to time. Now with the pandemic, we expect them to teach and run a digital platform with an additional set of responsibilities," said Danielson. "Passing the educator pay raise fund will be an incentive to attract and keep quality educators in Colorado."
While the bill creates a mechanism for pay raises, it doesn't direct funds into the measure.
"Until the fund is actually filled, we didn't think it was appropriate to attach long with it the distribution details because we don't know if there is going to be $200,000 in the future or $200,000,000. The idea is to create the pot, and our next step will be to fill it up My hope is that we can put resources into this newly created fund as soon as possibly, that could mean ballot measures in the near future," said Danielson.
Right now, the General Assembly sends funds to districts, but it’s up to the districts to decide how to spend it. With the passage of Senate Bill 172, it would create a dedicated legislative fund for teacher and staff pay raises.
"Currently, there is no direct funding stream that would guarantee a teacher pay rise. We had to establish the fund so in the future when it's filled, it would go directly to raising educator pay," said Danielson.
But opponents seeing the bill as a wrong approach.
"Senate Bill 172 makes the same mistake that we've been making for the past 30 years in Colorado- not prioritizing teachers. Senate Bill 172 says you can use this extra money to pay teachers more, but you must also use it to pay hourly employees more. Of course, those hourly employees are very important to the educational delivery, but they're not as important as teachers. Teachers are the most important people in the education system and Senate Bill 172 does not prioritize teachers in a way that I think to get the outcomes we want to see," said Luke Ragland, President of Ready Colorado.
Ragland says it's also unclear where the money will come from, how much will be allocated to the fund, and distribution plans.
"It leaves a great deal of authority to the Colorado Department of Education to distribute these funds so there are a lot of question marks that need to be ironed out," said Ragland.
Another concern, how the Colorado Department of Education will distribute the funds.
"Is it the General Assembly's place to be getting involved with decisions around local spending priorities? That's not a great path to head down in the long-term because local communities know how to spend their resources better than the state does because there is a local need, local context, and local desires. Even these well-intentioned programs that want to pay teachers more or do other good things, there's always a challenge when you are dictating these things from the state-wide level because what works in Durango won't always work in Denver," said Ragland.
Fox says she supports how the bill wants to take the power out of district hands.
"I'm all for taking the power away from the local districts if they aren't going to use it for teacher pay and other things. We are struggling as teachers to maintain our lives in the community, anything that we can do to take the power away from the districts, they have to use it for teacher wages, that's how it's supposed to be used and that's how it supposed to be used," said Fox.
She hopes the bill is amended for the teachers who have administrative degrees.