Teachers prepare for walkouts and march for increased school funding, better pay

DENVER -- Beginning Thursday, thousands of teachers are expected to walk out of schools and demonstrate at the state Capitol.

They are fighting for increased pay, better resources in the classroom and better funding for their retirement system.

“I can’t pay my bills,” Wheat Ridge High School social studies teacher Brittany Hovland said.

She made a sign for the march that says “Hey hey, ho ho, I can’t pay my rent no mo."

She says among rent, utilities and her $1,600 monthly student loan bill, cost of living has outpaced her paycheck.

“It’s like $400 or $500 that isn’t covered a month just for bills alone, not like eating or doing anything else,” she said.

According to the group of Wheat Ridge High School teachers, a starting salary for an educator in Colorado is just more than $32,000.

“I made more bartending three nights a week than I do working full time as a high school teacher,” Hovland said.

“With my first year teaching, I almost still qualified for food stamps,” computer science teacher Angie Mortensen said.

Both teachers will be participating in Thursday’s "Day of Action” at the Capitol to fight for more state funding.

“I’m excited to go out there and be present (Thursday), but it’s not only for my salary,” Hovland said.

Hovland and her colleagues estimate they each spend $1,200 to $1,500 per year on supplies for their classrooms.

They say they have to buy pencils, notebooks, teaching materials such as books and that some teachers even have to pay for their own copies of classroom handouts.

“I think what really prompted it was the growth in Colorado and the cost of living in Colorado has gone up significantly where there’s been no change in the teacher’s salary,” Mortensen said.

Each teacher interviewed said they work about 60 hours per week and spend their summers working on lesson plans, too.

“People kind of automatically think that during the summer we’re just like laying out and enjoying our yachts, but in reality, we’re planning for the next year,” Hovland said.

With better pay, she said she can quit her side jobs and focus more on her classroom, which will mean a better education for each of her students.

“It is a lifetime job and I know that I signed up for that and it’s absolutely what I want, but I just want to be able to make it through,” she said.

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