It’s May in Colorado, which means two things: our state legislature just wrapped up its annual lawmaking session, and teachers will soon get a well-deserved break from the classroom. What’s the connection?
Despite the legislature putting more money into education each year, teacher salaries are actually going down in Colorado. You read that correctly – every year, less money is getting into classrooms – where it would have the greatest impact on learning.
In Colorado, we have so many things to be thankful for. Our economy is ranked #1 in the nation, and we are consistently touted as being one of the best – if not THE best – state to live, find a job, etc. But as far as adequately compensating our teachers for their hard work, Colorado is coming up short.
As a parent and former middle school teacher, I’m passionate about education funding and policy. And as a Colorado taxpayer, I believe that when elected officials say that our children’s education is a priority, that they should actually make it a priority. They should use our $33 billion budget as effectively as possible to give our kids the best education possible.
This year, for example, the legislature dedicated an additional $100 million to our education system on top of the usual constitutionally-mandated yearly increase. But how much of that money will end up going to teachers salary? If history gives us any indication, it won’t be much.
Since 1990, education spending is UP 20 percent in Colorado (adjusted for inflation), but teacher salaries are DOWN 20 percent during that same time. If teacher salaries had kept up with our spending increases, the average teacher would be making about $70,000 instead of $47,000.
No wonder teachers are upset.
If you dig a little deeper into the numbers, you see that only 53 percent of our education dollars are actually spent on “instruction.” Meaning that barely over half is spent on teacher salaries and in-classroom services that most affect students.
So where is the money going? While health insurance and pension costs account for some of it, Colorado schools spend more money on administration than the average state (and the average state spends too much). Since 2011, the number of teachers has increased by 8 percent, but the number of administrators has gone up 35 percent.
Elected officials say this is a great concern. If they really believe that, they should actually get to the bottom of this discrepancy immediately, and not let unions and liberal politicians push for more tax hikes as the ultimate solution. Ignoring the data and telling teachers that it’s the voters’ fault that they don’t get paid more is simply not true.
The next tax increase will be on the ballot this November. It comes in the form of permanently taking our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights refunds. While legislators claim that 1/3 of this money will go towards K-12 education, there is absolutely no guarantee that future legislatures will spend it that way. It would essentially be a blank check for the legislature.
The current funding in our education system is sufficient, but it’s not being spent the right way. Before approving any more tax hikes voters should demand reform. Dumping more money into a flawed system doesn’t benefit students or teachers.
Michael Fields is the executive director of Colorado Rising Action.