Thousands of Colorado teachers are protesting at the state Capitol this week, demanding more money for schools, higher pay, and protection for their retirement benefits.
Chalkbeat wanted to better understand how the contentious issue of school funding impacts teachers’ lives and the lives of their students. We asked educators around the state to fill out a survey asking about their salaries and the needs they see in their classrooms.
We’ve excerpted some of their responses below.
Tell us about how well your salary matches your cost of living. Do you work a second job? Are there things you personally do without? Or do you feel like you get by?
“I work part-time as a lecturer at a university in the evenings to help my family. I have a child with a neurological disorder, so I have to pick up the slack that our expensive insurance doesn’t cover. I have two other children who need things, too. We are a paycheck-to-paycheck family.”
– Virginia Stewart, kindergarten teacher, Colorado Springs School District 11, $41,000/year
“My salary definitely doesn’t match my cost of living now that my husband was laid off and took a lower-paying job. I have a second job selling essential oils. It brings in an extra $200 to 300 per month. We don’t have a lot of extras in our lives: cable TV, for example. Medical bills have caused credit card debt, and now we’re looking at a kid in college next year!”
– Sarah Hightower, 5th grade teacher, St. Vrain Valley School District, $54,000/year
“I live paycheck-to-paycheck. I have to get scholarships for my own children to attend camps, and I often waitress in the summer. I don’t buy new clothes or go on fancy trips unless my parents pay. Some months I’ve had to choose between food and gas.”
– Vicki Haber, 5th grade teacher, School District 27J, $53,000/year
What’s missing from your school or classroom that could be fixed by more money?
“My textbooks are 17 years old. I’m supposed to teach my students how to use online resources, but I can almost never get time in the computer lab. We need things that should be basic like markers, colored pencils, tissues, etc. But we don’t have any budget for that kind of stuff so what we do have is donated or paid for by me.”
– Rose Pompey, 8th grade social studies teacher, Jeffco Public Schools
“Air conditioning, no cockroaches, better chairs and tables, textbooks, dry erase boards that work, basic classroom supplies like paper, pencils, tissues, etc.”
– Marcea Copeland-Rodde, 7th grade social studies teacher, Pueblo City Schools
“The school I teach at is in a rural community, and it is a very small school. We have kindergarteners through twelfth grade all in one school.
“The school is very old and run down. We often have troubles keeping it warm in the winter time and cool in the early fall and late spring when school is still in session. I often have to teach wearing a winter coat and gloves. Teachers often keep blankets handy to give to students to keep them warm when the heat is not keeping up.
“Most of the classrooms are very small and are inadequate when trying teach larger classes. The rooms need remodeled and need new furniture.
“There is also a need for more technology in the classroom to better engage students. … I often cannot make copies or print anything due to technology that isn’t working and cannot get fixed until Thursday because that is the only day the IT person works at the school.”
– Karlee Harris, middle-level math and social studies teacher, Lone Star School in Otis
Some believe schools don’t need more money, they just need to be funded differently. How do you respond to that?
“We can’t continue to do more with less. It’s not sustainable. Our kids deserve to have what they need to learn: up-to-date materials and resources, chairs that aren’t broken, tables and desks that don’t fall apart when you set a book on them, and teachers who are paid well so that they can focus on doing this one job really well, not worrying about doing two more in addition to teaching to just get by.”
– Teresa Brown, dean of student support, Colorado Springs School District 11
“I believe that the whole education system is in a top-down approach. This is negatively impacting education. I think budget priorities need to be as such:
1. Student/classroom needs
2. Teacher pay
3. Other personnel pay (custodians, support staff, etc.)
4. Administration pay.”
– Quinn McNierney, 5th grade reading, writing, and social studies teacher, Pueblo City Schools
“I agree that if we stopped paying to test students to death, we could save a great deal.”
– Jennifer Martinez, elementary music teacher, Poudre School District
What else would you like to share?
“I won the Mary Simon Award for Exceptional Teaching, and now Colorado is losing a good teacher. I have to move out of state as the cost of living is too high, and the state is not meeting that with their teacher pay. I don’t want to leave Colorado, but for the sake of my future, I have to leave. I am going to go to Texas, where a first year teacher is paid $53,000! I am nowhere close to that pay and I am in year six. Plus, the cost of living is much lower so I’ll finally be able to live a life where it’s not month-to-month and never knowing if I’ll have money for food the last week of each month without having to add to my credit card debt.”
– Shannon Rizza, kindergarten teacher, Aurora Public Schools
“Those who are against teachers are part of the problem. A day without teachers is absolutely necessary. It should inconvenience people. Its impact should be felt. Teachers deserve better and the time is now.”
– Edwina Lucero, high school music teacher, STRIVE Prep, Denver
“The issue is funding as a whole, not just teacher pay. Some believe that’s all we want.”
– Crystal Lytle, 3rd grade teacher, Moffat County School District