If not now, when?  If not us, who? 

D.J. Anderson, left, and Lea Steed

Those are the questions that compelled us to action. As public-school graduates, parents and advocates, the two of us agreed earlier this year to be the proponents for a proposed citizens ballot initiative that would set aside certain revenues already collected by the state to be used to attract, retain and pay teachers and student-support professionals.

Last Wednesday, the Colorado State Title Board cleared the way for our proposed initiative to collect voter signatures to qualify for the 2022 state ballot.

Though ours are the only names officially placed on them, these initiatives came about through a diverse and inclusive process that involved dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals. It was their input, stories, energy, suggestions, and perspectives that brought us to this moment when we are proposing a ballot measure to address Colorado’s severe school staffing shortage in a sustainable way, without raising taxes.

If not now, when?

Why now? After two years of Covid-19, Colorado’s students — especially those who live in poverty and those who learn differently — have greater needs than ever. We’ve heard from teachers, mental health professionals, parents and students themselves: to thrive, our students require additional attention to their academic, social and emotional needs. That means additional qualified adults in our schools — an investment that yields a tremendous return.

At the same time, we’ve heard from current and former teachers and administrators that the stress of being overworked, underpaid and, too often, underappreciated, is making it harder every day to keep professionals in the classroom. 

In an open letter to state leaders, Eagle Valley School District Superintendent Philip Qualman said it best: “Colorado ranks 50th out of 50 states in Teacher Wage Competitiveness. Colorado is 45th in percent of Taxable Resources Spent on Education. . . . The math says Colorado doesn’t value kids or educators, and it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a teacher in Colorado. So what do they do? They go where they’re valued, which is happening at an alarming rate.”

Why now? Because of this urgency and because we can do it — right now — without raising taxes. As a result of formulas in Colorado’s Constitution, the state is collecting an estimated $1.9 billion  – under current tax rates – that the General Assembly is not allowed to spend on underfunded services such as public education.

Only we the voters can unlock those funds so that they can be used to provide our teachers and student support professionals with livable wages that allow them to live in the communities where they teach. 

And the voters can’t unlock those funds unless we give them the choice with a measure on the ballot this November. We believe we can and should trust the voters to make this decision. 

If not us, who?

Our conversations in our communities — and those that all our colleagues have had around the state — make it clear that Coloradans value public education. They recognize the fundamental role that our public schools play in making sure that our communities, our families, our economy and our democracy can thrive.

But ballot measures don’t create themselves. Someone has to take the initiative and we are proud to be the named representatives of the hundreds who have already stepped up to this moment on behalf of Colorado students and teachers.

We are proud to represent the millions of voters who would welcome the opportunity to invest in our public schools without raising taxes and who want to tell our hardworking teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, counselors, bus drivers, custodians, and nutrition workers, “We see you, we appreciate you, and help is on the way.”

If not us, who?  We ask you to be a part of “us”: the Coloradans who want to ensure that all our students thrive and that teaching once again becomes a valued and sustainable profession.

Join us.  Help carve the path to a better future.

D.J. Anderson, of  Fort Collins, is a member of the Poudre School District Board of Education. Lea Steed, of Aurora, is director of Equity Matters for Great Education Colorado.

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