While lawmakers discussed the state budget inside the Capitol Wednesday morning, a crowd of more than 1,000 teachers, parents and others rallied outside to call attention to school budget cuts and urge increased education funding.“The best investment we can make is in our public schools,” Kerrie Dallman, president of the Jefferson County Education Association, told the cheering crowd. “Tell our legislators and the public that it is time to take the lead and adequately fund public education.”
The “Take the Lead” rally was organized by the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, along with the Colorado PTA, the American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, Great Education Colorado and several other advocacy and labor groups.
The rally was held on a budget-related furlough day for the Jefferson County Schools, and many participants wore blue JCEA shirts.
Nearly everyone in the crowd seemed to be carrying signs, some hand-lettered and some printed. Several hand-lettered signs referred to the furlough day, reading “I should be in school.” Some participants wore blue T-shirts that read “I should be teaching.”
A bluegrass band warmed up the group, playing folk standards like “This Land in Your Land” and also leading the crowd in “We Shall Overcome.”
Speakers encouraged crowd response to their statements, drawing frequent cheers and boos when specific effects of budget cuts were mentioned.
Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood and a Jeffco employee, really got the crowd going, with one man shouting “Vote ‘em out” when Kerr urged demanding support of education funding by lawmakers.
Other speakers included 2012 state teacher of the year Kristin Donley, Dawn Wheeler from the PTA and Hereford Percy, a former Jeffco board member and current chair of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
“This is Colorado. We’re good. We’re as good as Finland, we’re as good as Singapore,” said Donley.
The $5.3 billion 2012-13 school funding bill pending in the House proposes to keep average per pupil student flat next year after three years of cuts. But many districts still expect to make budget cuts because of rising costs and because some have drawn down reserves in recent years to cover shortfalls and are no longer able to do that.
Colorado school funding is about $1 billion below what it would be if the legislature had been able to use the full Amendment 23 funding formula in recent years.
CEA President Beverly Ingle closed the hour-long rally, shouting to the crowd, “This is the beginning of a movement to spread the word. We will do better for our children.”