The plight of underfunded schools and underpaid teachers has become a national story, with educators walking off the job in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona.
Here in Colorado, teachers have been marching on the State Capitol to demand higher wages and better school funding. Those protests will grow louder this week when teachers from three of the largest school districts in the state — Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson counties — descend on the State Capitol on Thursday and Friday. Teachers from multiple other school districts throughout Colorado are participating in various rallies this week, and while there are no indications that educators might go on strike, Republican lawmakers are doing their best to threaten them anyway.
Denver7 reports on a new GOP-sponsored bill in the Colorado legislature designed to have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of teachers:
The bill, SB18-264, would prohibit public school teacher strikes by authorizing school districts to seek an injunction from district court. A failure to comply with the injunction would “constitute contempt of court” and teachers could face not only fines but up to six months in county jail, the bill language reads.
The bill also directs school districts to fire teachers on the spot without a proper hearing if they’re found in contempt of court and also bans public school teachers from getting paid “for any day which the public school teacher participates in a strike.” [Pols emphasis]
The bill, which was introduced this past Friday, is sponsored by State Rep. Paul Lundeen and Sen. Bob Gardner, both Republicans.
The story of this new legislation from Republicans is already being picked up nationally (see The Hill and Vox.com for two examples), and we would expect that you’ll be hearing about this soon from every major media outlet in the country. Colorado teachers are among the lowest paid in the country — our state ranks 46th in average teacher pay nationwide.
Administrators in Colorado have tried threatening teachers in the past, and it has usually failed spectacularly (see: McMinimee, Dan). We wouldn’t expect this move by Republicans to do any better. Colorado teachers are not promoting a strike, and those that are walking out in places like Jefferson County are taking personal days off to attend the rallies; it’s not like they are just refusing to work for the day.
Aside from the issue itself, the political ramifications here are plainly obvious. With this legislation, Republican lawmakers are publicly lining up in opposition to Colorado teachers in a manner that is absolutely unnecessary. Instead of listening to teacher arguments and nodding politely — and then doing nothing — the GOP has decided to stake out a position as a villain. And make no mistake about which side is the bad guy here; a recent poll shows that 78% of Americans believe teachers are underpaid, and half of those respondents say they would support a tax increase in order to raise teacher salaries.
With Democrats in control of the State House, there’s no way SB18-264 is going to pass anyway. Republicans are inflicting a significant political wound on themselves for no practical reason.