COLORADO — Colorado's largest teacher's union is pushing for major changes in the public education system.
During a press conference Tuesday, the Colorado Education Association released its annual State of Education report highlighting multiple challenges facing the state’s public education system next year and outlined priorities for the next legislative session.
For many educators, it's been a tough couple of years as they grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, and they don't see an end in sight.
"In my 22 years in Denver Public Schools, I've never seen the district have a difficult time filling positions and keeping schools functioning. Ultimately leading to further stress for educators and students. In Denver, we have several reports from schools of ten to fifteen resignations this year, and that's per site," said Amber Wilson, Denver Public Schools, and Secretary-Treasurer of the Colorado Education Association.
"At my school, East High School, the library was closed for several years because there weren't sufficient funds in the budget to pay for a librarian but because of our program requirements for IB, the school needed to have a functioning library. I was put in the role of the librarian when the school reopened the library, but in order to do so, another teaching position had to be cut. Six years later, there are no books in the library because there is no money in the budget to buy books. At the beginning of the school year, my district was forced to close an elementary school because the district didn't have the money to make necessary repairs to the building. These are just a couple of examples of how my school is forced to cut corners and go without essentials because of lack of funds," said Pueblo School District 60, and president of the Pueblo Education Association.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to push many of these educators to their breaking points.
"Several teachers have come to me saying I can't sustain this, I can't do it, it's not supposed to take my whole life, take everything I have left when I go home to my family. We've had so many quit over that statement, my family is important too," said Wilson.
"I taught special education for 21 years, and if it wasn't for the fact that I was given the opportunity to become a librarian, I think I would have left education at that point. It's really hard to come to school every day, and work with kids who have such high needs, and know that you don't have the resources they need to be successful at school and ultimately to be successful at life. It really wears on you when you spend so much time doing things that aren't directly associated with your instruction and you know you could be doing more for students but you don't have the time or resources to do so," said Maes.
Colorado Education Association President Amie Baca-Oehlert says a recent survey shows 67 percent of their members are considering leaving the education profession at the end of the school year.
"This year we have seen many people leave in the middle of the school year than we have in previous years. That is certainly concerning. When we did the same survey last year, that number was at 40 percent and that was alarming to us at the time. We had never seen the number that high, and now it's jumped to 67 percent. That's an indicator of the stress and pressures that our educators are feeling," said Baca-Oehlert.
She says the three biggest challenges facing the public education system are inadequate funding, educator shortage, and educator burnout.
"Colorado still ranks at or near the bottom at starting educator pay, wage competitiveness, and per-pupil funding. Exponentially increasing workloads and bitter political virtual over health, safety, history, and curriculum," said Amie Baca-Oehlert.
Looking ahead of the legislative session, CEA members want to see more funding, sustainable retirement benefits for educators, and another pause to the accountability clock.