Invest part of Colorado’s tax surplus in teachers

If not now when? If not us, who?

DJ Anderson, left, and Lea Steed

These are the questions that compelled us to act. As public school graduates, parents and advocates, we both agreed earlier this year to be the promoters of a proposed citizen voting initiative that would set aside some revenue already collected by the state to be used to attract, retain and compensate teachers and student support professionals.

Last Wednesday, the Colorado State Title Board paved the way for our proposed initiative to collect voter signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

Although ours are the only names officially assigned to them, these initiatives were born out of a diverse and inclusive process that involved dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals. It is their contributions, their stories, their energy, their suggestions, and their insights that have brought us to this moment when we are proposing a ballot measure to permanently address Colorado’s dire school staff shortage, without raising taxes.

READ: Colorado Sun Opinion Columnists.

If not now when?

Why now? After two years of Covid-19, students in Colorado — especially those living in poverty and those learning differently — have greater needs than ever. We heard from teachers, mental health professionals, parents and students themselves: to thrive, our students need extra attention to their academic, social and emotional needs. This means more qualified adults in our schools — an investment that pays off enormously.

At the same time, current and former teachers and administrators told us that the stress of being overworked, underpaid and, too often, underappreciated, makes it harder to keep professionals in the classroom every day.

In an open letter to state leaders, Eagle Valley School District Superintendent Philip Qualman said it best: “Colorado ranks 50th out of 50 states in teacher salary competitiveness. Colorado is 45th in percentage of taxable resources spent on education. . . . Calculations indicate that Colorado places no value on children or educators, and making a living as a teacher in Colorado is nearly impossible. So what are they doing? They are going where they are appreciated, which is happening at an alarming rate.

Why now? Because of this urgency and because we can do it — now — without raising taxes. Due to formulas in the Colorado Constitution, the state collects approximately $1.9 billion—at current tax rates—that the General Assembly is not allowed to spend on underfunded services such as public education.

Only we, the voters, can unlock these funds so they can be used to provide our teachers and student support professionals with decent salaries that allow them to live in the communities where they teach.

And voters can only release those funds if we give them the choice with a measure on the November ballot. We believe we can and should trust voters to make this decision.

If not us, who?

Our conversations in our communities – and those that all of our colleagues have had around the state – clearly show that Coloradans value public education. They recognize the fundamental role that our public schools play in ensuring that our communities, our families, our economy and our democracy can thrive.

But ballot measures do not create themselves. Someone has to take the lead, and we are proud to be named representatives of the hundreds who have already stepped up in this moment on behalf of Colorado students and teachers.

We are proud to represent the millions of voters who would welcome the opportunity to invest in our public schools without raising taxes and who want to tell our teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, counsellors, bus drivers, caretakers and hardworking nutrition workers: “See you soon, we appreciate you and help is on the way.

If not us, who? We ask that you be part of “us”: the Coloradans who want to ensure that all of our students thrive and that teaching once again becomes a valued and sustainable profession.

Join us. Help pave the way to a brighter future.

DJ Anderson, of Fort Collins, is a school board member for Poudre School District. Aurora’s Lea Steed is director of Equity Matters for Great Education Colorado.

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