Support employees rally at Colorado Capitol to call for lawmakers to spare K-12 from cuts

School employees rallied on Tuesday, May 26, 2020 outside of the Colorado Capitol in Denver, Colorado to call on lawmakers to preserve K-12 education budgets. (Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association)

After a two-month hiatus, Colorado lawmakers convened Tuesday morning and encountered  a parade of Denver and Jefferson County school employees in buses and cars featuring signs calling for preserving K-12 education budgets.

Lawmakers plan to cut statewide education by 15%, with Colorado facing a $3.3 billion revenue shortfall next fiscal year from the effects of battling the coronavirus pandemic.

The steep expected decline in education funding has prompted many employees to fear for their jobs feeding students, cleaning schools and supporting learning. Education union leaders across the state are pressing lawmakers to hold budgets flat by imposing an emergency tax to raise funds.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association President Tiffany Choi said support employees are crucial to meeting the everyday needs of students and to care for buildings.

“The implications of cutting the education budget now are disastrous and dangerous for everyone,” Choi said.

Both the budget and tax requests will be challenging — if not impossible — to fulfill. 

Facing loss of tax revenue from nearly every source, lawmakers have made cuts to every aspect of state government, including a 58% reduction to higher education funding. They also stripped out new spending, with the House Education Committee on Tuesday tabling numerous K-12 bills that would have required spending next year.

Colorado lawmakers will be hard pressed to totally spare K-12, which takes up 36% of the general fund, when the state expects a 25% cut in revenue.

An emergency tax, which has never been done before, would require a two-thirds majority and support from Republicans, who so far have been uninterested. 

Union leaders said lawmakers are shedding tears over the hard decisions they face.

Lisa Archuleta, a Denver Public Schools facility manager, said the cuts will hurt the ability of schools to respond to the coronavirus.

For instance, she said, budgetary reductions during the Great Recession brought down the number of janitors at Edison Elementary, making sanitizing the school a difficult job. The number of janitors there has never rebounded, she said. Archuleta said the cuts will further impact whether the school and district can sanitize school facilities.

Laura Center, president of the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association, which organized the rally, said she hopes lawmakers will lobby the federal government for more funds for education. Gov. Jared Polis has already allocated $510 million from the state’s allotment of federal coronavirus relief to K-12 schools, on top of $121 million in dedicated federal education money. Those funds must be used for purposes related to coronavirus response by the end of the calendar year. 

She also said she hopes lawmakers will look to reserves to alleviate some short-term cuts, although those funds are limited and could serve as a contingency next year if there isn’t a significant economic rebound.

Bold steps are needed or else there will be consequences for students, Center said.

“Don’t shortchange our students or put them in harm’s way by making further cuts to the infrastructure that supports them,” she said.

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