Public Education in Crisis: Report Highlights Risk Factors and Problems
It’s been a tough year for educators. Between navigating the pandemic and its effects on learning, dealing with staffing shortages and more, teachers are struggling more than ever. And according to the new 2021 State of Colorado Education Report from the Colorado Education Associationthe state’s public education system is “on the brink of crisis.”
The report – which was released last week and is based on public education data, news articles, research and surveys of association members from December 2020 to October 2021 – highlights three main areas which the association says pose the greatest risks to Colorado. public education system. This includes a high percentage of educator burnout, insufficient funding, and a growing shortage of educators.
“The way we fund our public schools and value educators is unsustainable,” Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association, said in a press release.. ” We are at the crossroads ; what kind of state do we want to be? A country where chronic underfunding harms our children and pushes high-quality educators to surrounding states, or even worse, out of the profession? Or the one who takes pride in providing an exceptional education to prepare all students in every zip code to pursue their dreams and succeed? »
The Colorado Education Association is a statewide union of educators with chapters throughout the state, including the local Eagle County Education Association. In Colorado, it has more than 39,000 members that include not only K-12 teachers, but also professors, counselors, social workers, nurses, bus drivers, and more.
Karen Kolibaba, president of the association’s local chapter and fifth grade teacher at Red Hill Elementary School, spoke to the Vail Daily last week and identified that many of these challenges – namely shortages understaffing, insufficient pay and stressful working conditions – exist in the Eagle County public school district.
The burnout of educators
The Colorado Education Association surveyed 1,400 of its members across the state this fall and found that not only do they feel undervaluedbut they believe that this year is worse than the previous one.
Survey results showed that more than half of respondents felt this year was “significantly or somewhat worse” than last year.
One of the factors that was identified as worse than last year was the shortage of substitutes. Four out of five respondents indicated that the situation was significantly worse than last year and that this “puts additional pressure on educators”.
Eagle County schools have been open about their shortage of substitutes this school year and have also implemented a number of changes to try to better recruit and retain these visiting teachers.
At the start of the year, the local district identified that while it had 120 guest teachers on its roster, it only had 20 positions to actively fill. Additionally, the district’s fill rate — or the percentage of teacher absences filled by a substitute — was around 30% to 35%, compared to its normal rate of around 60%. This meant that all other teacher absences were filled by other teachers as well as by administrators, including the superintendent. For teachers, already overworked, this has considerably increased their workload.
Throughout the school year, the district found ways to not only lessen the impact on teachers, but also to hire new replacements. This included the offer of hiring incentives and a salary increase for visiting teachers as well as a compensation offer for teachers who replaced their colleagues.
Kolibaba last week said that while the shortage of substitutes was improving, it was still creating challenges for educators.
“I know the district has done a lot to encourage more subs, but it’s still a persistent problem and teachers are giving up their planning time in order to replace their colleagues,” she said.
In addition to the added pressures of these under-shortages — as well as staffing shortages — the Association’s survey found that only 1% said they felt highly valued by state elected officials and 10% said the same about their district. However, they reported feeling more valued by the school and their colleagues, just under 40% and 70%, respectively.
With this, the majority of respondents – 58.8% – said adequate salary and benefits were the most important factor in feeling valued and respected as an educator. This was followed by autonomy to do your job without interference and working conditions.
The report also notes that Colorado ranks 49th out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C. for competitive teacher compensation.
While teachers’ pay is something Eagle County Schools is working to raise — it approved a pay raise earlier this month during negotiations with the local teachers’ union — that’s not enough. still not for many educators.
“I know that some of our colleagues who left the profession, this year and before this year, found that they could not continue to work at the rate at which we have worked for so long with their current remuneration,” Kolibaba said. said last week. “A lot of our educators have multiple jobs, just to live here in our valley.”
She went on to say that while this most recent increase is a step in the right direction, the local union remains “hopeful to increase base pay even further.”
However, as the district has attempted to raise salaries for all of its staff, it faces an insurmountable challenge when it comes to statewide education funding in Colorado.
Frustrations over insufficient funding are not new to Colorado’s public education system. Earlier this year, Eagle County Schools Superintendent Philip Qualman expressed “outrage” at the shortfall.
“I am tasked with understanding and working within a K-12 education system and therein lies my outrage. I am appalled that Colorado ranks 43rd out of 51 states, including DC, for K-12 spending,” he said. “I’m frustrated that in a state with such a high quality of life, we place such a low value on our children’s education.”
The Association’s 2021 report highlights Colorado’s shortcomings, summing them up to both low educator pay and low funding per student. According to the report and census dataColorado drops $2,158, or 16%, below the national average on per-student funding
Part of the reason the funding is so low is due to the implementation of a negative factor, or the fiscal stabilization factor, as it has been called. This factor was put in place in 2010 during the financial crisis to reduce funding for education without renouncing Amendment 21, which, among other things, requires the state to increase the funding per pupil of schools with the rate of ‘inflation.
Even though this year the state reduced the factor, its cost to schools continues to rise each year. Since 2010, schools in Colorado have lost nearly $10 billion in funding due to the stabilization factor. The report notes that this means that “a high school student today has never experienced a fully funded public education.”
In June of this year, Sandra Farrell, director of operations for Eagle County Schools, said eliminating this factor would be an important thing the state could do to increase its spending per student — even if doing so , Colorado school districts would continue to rank at the bottom,” Farrell told the Vail Daily at the time.
“Adequately finance and adjust the [School Finance Act] A formula to provide equitable funding to all districts in the state would go a long way to making a difference for our students and staff,” she said.
Shortage of educators
The 2021 State of Education Report highlighted that 67% of Colorado Education Association members surveyed in October plan to leave the profession in the near future.. This is a 27% increase from December of last year.
Kolibaba and Qualman recently noted an exodus of educators from the local district.
“Not only were we not able to fill all of our positions that we had last year, but we also had several educators who left during the school year,” Kolibaba said last week.
At the December 8 school board meeting, Qualman said the district was “losing people to other areas.” He also added that simultaneously the hiring market was the worst he had seen in his career.
The association’s report also underlined this. The report says that as of October 2021, a review of the school district’s website shows more than 3,300 open positions — 1,125 certified positions and 2,251 uncertified support positions — in Colorado public schools.
As of Dec. 8, Eagle County Schools reported having about 60 vacancies in the district, a similar number to the start of the year. Reviewing staff lists – which are approved as part of the consent agenda at each Board of Education meeting and show new hires, transfers, vacancies, resignations and other staff changes – the district has had a steady stream of resignations and new hires. , while many positions remain vacant.
As previously reported, Eagle County Schools is working closely with its local teachers’ union to improve some of the conditions that cause educators to leave. Negotiations have taken place on numerous occasions since the beginning of the year and are expected to continue from the next negotiation meeting on January 12th.
Journalist Ali Longwell can be reached at [email protected]