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Amie Baca-Oehlert (Courtesy CEA)

Amie Baca-Oehlert (Courtesy CEA)

Colorado Education Association elects new president amid wave of teacher activism

Colorado’s largest teachers union chose Amie Baca-Oehlert, the current vice president, to take the helm starting in July.

Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman, who has led the 35,000-member organization since 2012, is term-limited. The CEA held its delegate assembly Friday night, after two days of rallies saw thousands of red-shirted teachers gather at the state Capitol to call for more school funding and to protect their retirement benefits.

Baca-Oehlert was chosen by acclamation to serve a three-year term, according to the union.

“Why I belong to the association is grounded in being a voice for my students,” Baca-Oehlert said in her acceptance speech, according to a press release from the union. “This work is not about me and my story. This work is about us and our story. This is about the U and I in Union. I pledge to stand by you and with you as collectively we say, ‘Our students deserve better’. We deserve better, and we will not stop until our voices are heard.”

Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor from Adams 12 Five Star Schools. She’s been vice president since 2012. Dallman will return to teaching high school social studies in Jeffco Public Schools.

When Dallman first took over leadership at the CEA, she said the union needed to “take ownership of reform” and bring forward its own ideas that “put kids front and center.” Though she opposed Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, she served on the State Council on Educator Effectiveness to help shape its implementation. At the same time, the union saw elements of the law they had challenged upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Dallman and her team at the Capitol were more successful in helping curb the amount of standardized tests students take in the wake of parental backlash and in rebuffing numerous attempts at weakening teacher licensure requirements. The union also helped ensure more charter school transparency was included in a bill last year that requires districts to share more revenue with charter schools.

Dallman’s tenure saw teachers unions assert themselves politically after years of dominance by more reform-minded school board members. Union-backed candidates won elections in the Jefferson County, Douglas County, Thompson, Aurora, and Denver school districts in 2015 and 2017.

This year, the union waded into the Democratic primary for governor and endorsed Cary Kennedy, a former state treasurer who has pledged to raise teacher pay and revisit the educator effectiveness law, which continues to be disliked by many teachers.

Baca-Oehlert faces the task of leveraging unprecedented political engagement by teachers into electoral victories for union-backed candidates and policy changes at the state level.