On Thursday and Friday, as Colorado teachers prepare to walk out to call for higher wages and increased school funding, some state lawmakers are working to make sure any plans to strike don’t go unpunished by introducing a bill in the Senate that could put teachers in jail for speaking out.
The bill, SB18-264, would prohibit public school teacher strikes by authorizing school districts to seek an injunction from the 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 bans public school teachers from getting paid “for any day which the public-school teacher participates in a strike.”
The bill, which was introduced this past Friday, is sponsored by State Rep. Paul Lundeen and Sen. Bob Gardner, both Republicans.
Mike Johnston, a Democrat eyeing the gubernatorial seat in 2018, has spoken out against the bill, calling it a “tactic designed to distract from the challenges facing Colorado’s education system rather than solving them.”
“Teachers across the country, from West Virginia and Oklahoma to Arizona and here in Colorado, are speaking up for themselves and their students. We need to listen to teachers now more than ever. This legislation attempts to silence their voices rather than working to address their concerns. As Governor, I will make sure that teachers are heard, not thrown in jail for exercising their rights,” Johnston said in a statement sent to the local news.
The Colorado Education Association estimates that Colorado teachers spend $656 of their own money for school supplies for students each year, and the average teacher salary here ranks 46th among U.S. states and Washington, D.C., according to the National Education Association.
The state currently is underfunding schools by more than $800 million each year, and the teacher shortage and education budget shortage are hitting rural schools hardest. There is some additional money pledge toward paying down that figure in the budget, but Democrats have argued it’s not enough.
Colorado’s TABOR law and the Gallagher Amendment also have huge say in how school funding is determined each year, and the educators are hoping for changes to those as well that can help shore-up school funding.