Teachers, students, and supporters picket in front of East High School as Denver Public School teachers enter their first day of strikes on Feb. 11, 2019. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

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Colorado’s two main teachers unions are exploring a merger that both groups hope will increase their influence on state and local education policy.

The Colorado Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and AFT Colorado, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, announced this week that they are forming an “exploratory unity committee” to look at consolidation.

“We have an incredible opportunity to unify and strengthen our collective voice to proactively fight for public education, the schools our students and educators deserve, the labor movement, and to push back against those who seek to undermine public education and the collective voice of educators,” the two unions said in a statement announcing the decision.

The merger would require the approval of both unions’ membership through multiple votes, first on the intent to merge and then on final approval of a new governance structure. There is no specific timeline for the process.

Leaders from both organizations said there isn’t one specific issue that prompted the merger talks. This step comes after years of growing alignment and cooperation on successful school board campaigns and teacher rallies, as well as unsuccessful efforts to pass statewide tax increases for education.

“We see eye-to-eye on 99.9% of things,” said Kallie Leyba, president of AFT Colorado. “It’s pretty rare that we approach things differently, so it’s almost silly to be two different organizations. We have a formidable enemy in [U.S. Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos, and we’re stronger together.”

“Our issues are the same,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association. “We’ve been talking about this for a while, and as we’ve been really experiencing these big systemic issues that have come to a bright light during COVID, we decided it was time to formally look at joining together.”

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Erica Meltzer, Chalkbeat

Bureau Chief — Chalkbeat Colorado Email: emeltzer@chalkbeat.org