Throughout this week we watched and heard a great deal about teacher salaries especially from the demonstrations in Denver on Friday. Many may ask why the protests are in Denver and not in our local communities. After all, local school districts decide teacher compensation, not the state. Even last year, School District 11’s bond initiative included a pay increase for teachers. Voters from all age groups and walks of life voted for the initiative.
I can appreciate teachers’ concern. My daughter is a kindergarten teacher in another state, and these expectations apply as much to her as my friends who are teachers here in Colorado. Walking through southeast Colorado Springs, I know first-hand that our community is well aware of teachers’ roles and their importance to our families and community. Quietly, many of us admit in face-to-face conversations that teachers are underpaid.
So why protest at the state level? The state, which is big government, helps to fund education by subsidizing the maintenance of buildings and operations in every county. What is not apparent is how the state impacts a local school district’s budget. Legislators pass laws creating unfunded mandates requiring local school districts to do tasks and generate reports without providing the necessary funding. These mandates show up in the administration portion of the school budget. Our school district tax dollars have to pay for these unfunded mandates effectively reducing our local school districts’ discretionary budget that would otherwise pay teachers and go to children in the classrooms.
As parents, grandparents, employers, students – voters, we need to ask ourselves if all that detailed oversight is necessary. In my view, we must do two things: Stop the unfunded mandates on school districts and; Take a closer look at what we are asking schools to administer. I believe we must question these mandates’ relevancy to our children’s quality of education and teacher wages. As a lawmaker, a state representative or state senator specifically, the responsibility to protect teachers’ wages and how much money makes it to our children in the classroom is decided by how our legislators vote for us.
If you agree with me that we must control unfunded mandates and school administration responsibilities, I encourage you to ask your current state representative and state senator how they voted on these laws. Ask them if they supported the growth of unfunded mandates. If teachers’ wages matter to you and your family, hold these elected lawmakers accountable and require them to justify their vote to you. You control who represents you with your vote in the November elections. I ask you to not vote for legislators who support such control over local school districts. And, I encourage you to ask their opponents where they stand on these issues.