On Thursday, January 26, the Eagle County Education Association is joining with other Western Slope and rural school districts to send approximately 75 educators to the Colorado Capitol in Denver. This group – representing 12 units of education associations – is heading out to meet with lawmakers and advocate for a better school funding model.
“Our children bear the brunt when Colorado makes their budget decisions, and it’s about time Colorado stopped balancing the budget on our children’s backs. We as educators have done more with less, you as school board members have been doing more with less for too long,” said Karen Kolibaba, fifth grade teacher at Red Hill Elementary and president of the Eagle County Education Association, at the Jan. 11 school board meeting . “If we’re going to continue to do more and meet the needs of our students, we need to get our lawmakers to live up to their agreements and the promises they made when they were elected.”
Among the 75 regional educators, seven from the local Eagle County School District will participate to share their experiences with lawmakers. One of them is Laura Daly, who teaches at Gypsum Elementary. She moved to Eagle County in 2014 with her husband Brendan, who teaches at Eagle Valley High School and is the association’s building-level representative.
Both Brendan and Laura Daly joined the union when they first started in the district, but have become more involved on the advocacy side of their work over the years, having seen firsthand the impact of the government’s funding model.
“We do not fund schools at the level required in the state to be sustainable for people who want to teach in the state or provide the same level of education as other states,” Brendan Daly said.
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Laura Daly said this funding model is gaining ground in local public schools primarily in their ability to recruit and retain qualified educators, Laura Daly said. In recent years she has seen colleagues start and go in a cycle.
“If we don’t have the money to continue to be competitive on salaries, we go through this cycle where we find a young teacher who’s cheap and doesn’t have a lot of experience and we train him and he’s really good good , but then they realize it’s really hard to make a living here. And then go,” she said. “Then there’s this constant cycle of new teachers and a new teacher just isn’t as good as an experienced teacher.”
That cycle and the “constant turnover” means the district “is having a really hard time filling the vacancies and that’s because the cost of living is so high,” added Laura Daly.
That cycle will only get worse, she added, for educators who choose to have children. Since moving to Eagle County, the Dalys have had two children, one in elementary school and the other as a toddler.
“If you can afford childcare in the valley on top of the housing costs, it’s just difficult to stay in the valley long-term,” said Laura Daly.
And while she acknowledges that the district’s efforts to find money for initiatives and that the majority of its funding goes to teachers, “they have to do it with a hand tied behind their backs,” she said.
Elimination of the “BS” factor
While Colorado’s poor per-student funding consistently ranks among the worst in the country, there’s one thing lawmakers, education advocates, and counties can all point out that makes matters worse: the budget stabilization factor. At Thursday’s meeting with lawmakers, the group of educators will urge lawmakers to eliminate this negative factor.
Also known as the “BS Factor,” it was introduced by the Colorado legislature in 2010 to legally cut education funding mandated by Amendment 23 in an economic downturn. Amendment 23 is a measure that obliges the state, among other things, to increase school funding per student each year by at least the rate of inflation.
Since 2010, this factor has caused public school districts to lose approximately $10 billion in funding. The local Eagle County school district lost $82 million. During the current school year, the factor will be responsible for a loss of $2.6 million in funding for the local district.
In his State of the State address last week, Gov. Jared promised Polis that he would eliminate the factor and fully fund K-12 schools within four years. While realizing that promise would be great, Laura Daly expressed some concerns about whether it will happen.
“Of course I’d like that,” she said. “However, this funding is based on the economy, on property taxes, and it’s a time when there are a lot of unknowns. So it’s hard to say, ‘OK, yeah, we’ll get rid of it in four years’ when you have to ask yourself in four years what will be the reason for not doing it?”
Even with promises that removing them would mean “full funding” of state education, state funding per student would still lag behind many other states. However, Brendan Daly said: “It’s a start.”
“Colorado’s spending on education is just not where it should be,” he said. “If we can help reduce or achieve the BS Factor, then we’re one step closer to where we need to be.”
In addition to sharing experiences, educators will deliver petitions on Thursday showing broad support for removing the factor. According to Kolibaba, the Eagle County Education Association collected around 250 signatures.
While Laura Daly said it can be uncomfortable talking about these issues, particularly teacher pay, she said advocacy is becoming increasingly important for the future of the profession and schools.
“You don’t come into this job for the pay, nobody does that. Because of that, it feels awkward to push for more,” she said. “But when I stand up for it, I’m standing up for my children’s teachers. I am committed to the future teachers of my students. I’m not just standing up for myself. It is committed to how we can make the school district the best it can be. And the #1 path is good teachers.”