Colorado teachers have a lot riding on the final two weeks of this year’s legislative session, both in policy and politics, from their weekly paycheck to their future pension.
The House of Representatives this week is expected to debate and vote on a fix to the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association, a plan to shore up the pension plan within 30 years, so that the money being collected from current workers and taxpayers is there when officials retire.
More than 60 percent of the 586,634 public employees who are members of the pension plan are teachers, school administrators, bus drivers, lunchroom workers or others who tend the children in K-12 education.
Before the General Assembly adjourns on May 9, lawmakers could decide whether teachers pay more into their retirement plan and get less in benefits or whether taxpayers should directly fill gap estimated at more than $32 billion over the next three decades. If taxpayers cover the shortfall, presumably teachers and other working pension members would receive less in pay raises in the future.
But nothing is guaranteed.
Teachers also are watching the school finance act, House Bill 1379, the annual legislation that sets spending, which passed the House and headed to the Senate on Friday. With a robust economy and a windfall of revenue from Washington tax cuts, the legislature is including a nearly 7 percent increase — and 10 percent more for the state portion that joins federal dollars — in the $7 billion budget for K-12 education
The bill also puts $150 million in one-time money toward the so-called “negative factor,” the amount the state has failed to put into K-12 education since voters passed Amendment 23 in 2000. The negative factor would still stand at about $672 million, so teachers want lawmakers to make the $150 million an annual contribution until the factor is no longer negative.
Average per-pupil spending in the next budget is projected to rise $222 to about $6,768, as it was sent to the Senate for deliberation.
But in the Capitol last week, teachers chanted “not enough.”
Teachers used personal leave days to march, but a Senate Bill 264 — Republican legislation that has no chance of passing the Democratic majority in the House — would block strikes by public school teachers.
Teachers who strike could face fines or jail time for contempt of court, as well as lose their jobs without the right to a hearing. Collective bargaining agreements would be voided, and teachers unions would lose the right to represent teachers for a year.