INSIGHTS: As the legislature gets generous, teachers chant, 'We want more'

In this image taken with a fisheye lens, Stephanie Rolf, center, a teacher in the Douglas County school system, leads a cheer during a teacher rally Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Denver. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It's the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Last week, thousands of my colleagues protested at the State Capitol, asking the legislature for increased funding for education; one specific component is for increased teacher pay.

I chose not to join them for both personal and professional reasons. While I believe we can – and should – pay teachers more, I also believe we can do it within existing funding by cutting administrative overhead to focus more dollars on the classroom.

I am a public high school teacher myself, with 31 years of experience teaching civics, U.S. history and law.

While I earn a decent salary today, my purchasing power has declined greatly as incremental raises over time have not kept up with inflation. On top of that, I spend nearly $1,200 each year on academic supplies and instructional materials for my classroom, and I am not the exception, many of my colleagues do the same because we love our kids and community.

Why do teachers buy their own supplies? Consider this scenario as an example: You are teaching a class and many of your students arrive without a pencil. Would you rather: A) provide that student with a pencil so they can be engaged with the learning, or B) not provide a pencil and lose that hour of instruction time for that student?

I make the choice to give my students’ academic supplies so they can continue to participate and be engaged in their learning. Because of my district, my experience, and having earned a master’s degree, I have the ability to do that. Too many teachers — specifically those in rural school districts — do not.

Few understand the teacher shortage among rural schools that has become a national crisis. Many of the small districts cannot get qualified teachers because of low starting salaries and or the high cost of living.

Yet, just because we should focus on providing more resources to attract teachers to rural districts does not mean we need to raise taxes or cut other programs to increase the overall funding of education in Colorado.

There is a misperception that increased funding will improve outcomes. That is simply false. Just because you pour more money into education, doesn’t mean it makes it to the classroom, where it needs to be in order to meet the essentials for our students.

Parents — and teachers — deserve better transparency on how education dollars are spent. School districts should be required to post their checkbooks online, where citizens can review their district’s spending and draw their own conclusions.

There is a misperception that increased funding will improve outcomes. That is simply false. Just because you pour more money into education, doesn’t mean it makes it to the classroom, where it needs to be in order to meet the essentials for our students.

Colorado has increased funding for education every year over the past eight, with an additional $600 million just added to next year’s budget.

At the same time, teacher salaries have been stagnant. Why the disconnect?

As a teacher, I have watched our district’s central administration grow from a reasonably sized office to an overwhelmingly large entity. The numbers support what I have observed.

Take for example Aurora Public Schools. For the 2008-2009 budget (the earliest year available on its website), the district expected general fund expenditures of $240 million, with $149 million allocated to instruction and $90 million to support services.

Nine years later, for 2017-2018, APS planned to spend $338 million from the general fund, with $188 million going to instruction and $149 million for support services.

In less than a decade, APS’s budget grew 41 percent — but largely driven by a 66 percent increase in non-instruction expenditures. All the while enrollment has increased 30 percent. I personally do not support a non-profit organization whose administration costs are higher than 12 percent because I want my money being spent on the heart of the matter.

Finally, over the same period of time that instruction — actual work to impact students’ learning and achievement — rose 26 percent; general administration in the district nearly doubled, increasing 84 percent from $3.6 million to $6.7 million. While these numbers reflect just one district, I believe it is an example of the massive growth in central administration throughout education.

$3 million would buy a lot of pencils.

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