Colorado teachers descend on the capital

April 19, 2018

Jonathan Cunningham reports from the latest front in the teacher wars as Rocky Mountain state educators gear up for a struggle to defend pensions and schools.

TEACHERS FROM several cities and counties across Colorado stayed away from the classroom on April 16 so they could protest at the state Capitol building to demand an end to the onslaught against public employee benefits and greater funding for public education. Schools were declared closed in a number of cases as a result.

The Colorado Education Association (CEA) was the primary organizer of the event. Their members were joined by members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) as well as parents, students and other workers, including members of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters Union.

Marching chants included explicit calls to get corporate influence out of education and increase funding to schools instead of funding more military adventurism.

The immediate cause for the mobilization was Colorado's Senate Bill 200, which would increase the retirement age for public employees and gut their pension fund by increasing employee contributions, redefining full-time employment and moving from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan that doesn't provide for retirement security.

Colorado teachers on the march to demand education justice
Colorado teachers on the march to demand education justice (Jonathan Cunningham | SW)

Lori Goldstein, a retired teacher who taught in the Colorado education system for 34 years, talked in an interview about the importance of defending public education and the effect that organizing actions have on her fellow workers. "Any time I come out here with my fellow brothers and sisters, it's empowering," Goldstein said while wearing the signature red of the "Wear Red for Ed" campaign.

Cody Jump has taught in Leadville for the last 10 years and has been organizing with fellow teachers for the last five. He says it was this longstanding opposition to the continued underfunding of schools and budgetary constraints that helped to put "infrastructure in place that is now being utilized by a new wave of mobilization."

"This would never have happened without the teachers pushing for it," said another protester who asked not to be named. "It's the result of rank and file action," she added.

On the day of the protest, the House Finance Committee met on April 16 to discuss Senate Bill 200. While the protest wasn't able to halt the bill's progress, teachers won several key amendments.

"We are very glad to see the removal of the defined contribution provision and allocation of $225 million to eliminate the proposed employee contribution increases," said CEA President Kerrie Dallman. In addition the amendments took out the full time redefinition and several (though not all) of the retirement age expansions.

The unions are planning a follow-up statewide walkout and rally on April 27 to build on the momentum of the event and focus on defending public education in Colorado as a whole, in addition to continuing the fight to stop Senate Bill 200.

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