"We have chronically underfunded our system," Baca-Oehlert says. "We need to do better by our students, and by our community."
The week before what Baca-Oehlert refers to as the current "days of action," Senator Bob Gardner and Representative Paul Lundeen, a pair of Republican legislators from El Paso County, introduced Senate Bill 18-264, which "prohibits public school teachers and teacher organizations from directly or indirectly inducing, instigating, encouraging, authorizing, ratifying, or participating in a strike against any public school employer."
The measure requires public school employers to seek an injunction from district court to end any strikes, and failure to abide by such an edict would be punishable by "fines or up to six months in county jail, or both."
Observers on both sides of the political divide give the Gardner-Lundeen measure no chance to pass and see it as more of an attention-getting device than a serious proposal. Nonetheless, Baca-Oehlert makes it clear that the CEA opposes it even as she decries many of the school funding mechanisms already in place.
Among those that stoke her frustration is one popularly known as the "negative factor," which is used in conjunction with Colorado's School Finance Act. Under its provisions, according to the Great Education Colorado website, "the legislature...decides how much it wants to spend on school finance, and then adjusts the negative factor to meet that funding target."
"The negative factor, which is also referred to as the budget stabilization factor, has been in place since 2009, and it's led to a decade of underfunding schools," Baca-Oehlert maintains. "This year, the negative factor has grown to $822 million, but over the last ten years, it adds up to $6.6 billion. That means some students have spent their entire K-12 education experience at underfunded schools."
She adds that "committed educators have done more with less for a long time. Some of them are working two and three jobs to feed their families — even ones with master's degrees. That's why so many of them are choosing to take their personal leave time to come down to the Capitol and talk to elected officials about what's happening. They're saying, 'Enough is enough. Our students deserve better.'"
At the same time, the CEA is backing Great Schools, Thriving Communities, also known as Initiative 93, a proposed ballot measure that "would raise $1.6 billion annually to support public education," Baca-Oehlert notes. "It's currently in the stage of gathering signatures, and we're hoping the public will understand the need to increase funding for public schools in Colorado and sign a petition to get this initiative on the ballot" in November 2018.
In the meantime, Baca-Oehlert cheers the motivations behind the teacher protests.
"It certainly inspires hope in us to see communities all across Colorado coming together to participate in this day," she points out. "It says we have people all across the state who are willing to listen to and support education in our local communities. And it also gives us hope that we, as citizens of Colorado, can get an initiative on the ballot and then pass that ballot initiative to support our students and our schools."