Lawmakers Propose to Imprison Educators Who Leave their Classes for Strike
As thousands of Colorado school teachers get ready to descend on their state capitol this week to demand billions of dollars in education funding, lawmakers are thinking of jailing them if they go on strike. Two Republican legislators were the ones to propose this, and it promises jail time for any educator caught directly or indirectly instigating, inducing, authorizing, encouraging, ratifying or participating in a strike against any public school employer.
The Proposed Jail-time
The jail term proposed by the prime sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Bob Gardner, and Rep. Paul Lundeen is six months. According to Kerrie Dallman, the president of the Colorado Education Association, it’s a clear attempt to limit the voices of educators. She further states all they want to do is talk to their elected representatives about funding our schools appropriately and that the two Republican legislators are coming out with a bill that is a clear attack on public school teachers in the state.
Colorado teachers are poised to participate in a lobbying effort in Denver, prompting at least a dozen school districts in the state to cancel school. Dallman said she expected thousands of teachers to gather at the state capitol on the first day and well over 7,000 on the next.
She emphasized the days of action at the capitol were not a strike or even a mass teacher walkout. She said most of the teachers participating in the event will be using the two personal leave days they earn annually.
Lawmakers Respond to Allegations
The fact that they’re using one of their two personal days is a strong indication of how important this issue is to them. Gardner said the bill would not prohibit movements like teachers’ weekly plans and opined it was absurd to say the proposal was intended to curb teachers’ voices.
Gardner said in a statement that it is not in any way an attempt to silence teachers’ voices. Teachers have the right to assemble, protest, associate, demonstrate whatever they wish and Garner says he would defend their right to do that.
He said there had been widespread misinformation about his bill. He explained that educators and education unions would only risk going to jail or being terminated if they defy a court order forbidding them to strike.
If this bill were to pass, teachers wouldn’t be silenced. They simply will be unable to walk out of the classroom together collectively and leave the job and shut down schools. He said the West Virginia teachers’ strike earlier this year prompted him to propose the legislation.
What Started the Ball Rolling
West Virginia teachers went on a nine-day strike that ended in March when the Republican governor there agreed to give all state workers a 5 percent pay raise. The labor action ignited a string of teacher protests in red states like Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona where the governors’ offices and state legislatures are dominated by Republicans. Arizona teachers also voted last week to go on strike on Thursday in an effort to get a 20 percent pay hike.
Colorado is the exception. The state’s governor, John Hickenlooper, is a Democrat and Democrats hold a majority of seats in the State House. The bill proposed by Gardner and Lundeen will likely not pass. The Colorado Senate Democrats called the proposal ‘anti-worker trash’ in a tweet last Monday. Dallman told ABC News that teachers in Colorado are frustrated that their efforts so far have not swayed lawmakers to adhere to Amendment 23, which was passed by voters in 2000 and requires the state to increase funding for education at the annual rate of inflation.
Dallman says that for the past nine years, their pleas for an increase have fallen on deaf ears. She said Colorado spends about $2,700 less than the national per-pupil average which is about $12,000 a year. Dallman said that over the last nine years, state lawmakers have underfunded education by $6.6 billion, $828 of that is on this year alone. She went on to say they want them to pay off that debt and adhere to Amendment 23 within the next four years. They also want no new corporate tax breaks of any kind until school funding reaches the national per-pupil average.
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