In 2018, several states have seen large-scale teacher protests. West Virginia saw teachers protest low pay and poor working conditions in February. The following month, teachers in Arizona did the same. These complaints have now migrated to my home state of Colorado. The complaint these teachers seem to have is that they aren’t paid like their counterparts in New York or California.
Here’s the data. The average West Virginia teacher makes $45,622, those in Arizona make $47,218, and Colorado teachers make $46,155. Compared with the average salaries of teachers in California and New York, who pull in $77,179 and $79,152 respectively, one can understand the complaint. This grows when we consider that many public-school teachers in lower-income areas often must spend hundreds of their own money to provide things for their students.
I attended a sit-in/protest event, at the Denver Capitol. Here’s what I saw.
The Colorado General Assembly House Finance Committee met, to discuss Senate Bill 200. If passed, this bill will increase the amount contributed by Colorado teachers to their pensions. These pensions are controlled by the public employee’s retirement association (PERA). This is under consideration because Colorado’s unfunded liability for PERA has grown around $32 billion, according one committee member.
Dozens of teachers sat in the old supreme court room, most wearing red Colorado Education Association (CEA) shirts. We sat, for over an hour, listening to testimony on the bill. The experience was tedious; akin to listening to a stranger describe their medical maladies, you want it to end and wonder if it ever will.
CEA information packets were in abundance, among its contents were papers claiming that PERA was not on track to run out of money, and that the state was underfunding education. Some teachers informed me that the State of Colorado was busy handing out freebies to corporations while shafting the teachers.
Speakers came to speak, but none were introduced well enough to catch their names. They spoke of how teachers were essential, that public schools were a necessity for Colorado. One man quoted Horace Mann, the father of public schooling, to the effect that public schools were the greatest innovation of the human mind. The attitude of the protestors was one of war, they shouted that ‘this is what democracy looks like’ and that ‘we will not be stopped.’ They acted as if they were entitled to something from the taxpayers, in short, “a secure, predictable retirement,” for teachers.
And What of the Taxpayers?
So where’s the guarantee going to come from to give these educators what they want? The taxpayers? Why should we be forced to pay increases for their pensions, to give them what none of us get, a guaranteed retirement? Why not take money from the school administrators who pull down six-figure salaries for ‘running’ things, or better still, from the unions?
The fact is that Colorado public schools, like those elsewhere, are a mixed bag of decent and terrible. The Denver Public School system is particularly notorious for being bad, as multiple graduates of that system have told me over the years.
Public school teachers have declared how they won’t let students be taken by private and charter schools, so why not change the system in which they work so they can do better, and outperform their rivals? We may feel full sympathy with the teachers who must work two and three jobs to make ends meet, or who must buy their own classroom supplies, but sympathy is a poor substitute for fiscal responsibility.