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Teachers Walk Out In Colorado

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today's the second day of a teacher walkout in Colorado. In two dozen districts, teachers plan to leave school to rally at the state capitol in Denver. The demands are similar to what we've seen by teachers in other states. They are asking for better pay, more school funding and a protected retirement plan. Sam Brasch of Colorado Public Radio reports.

SAM BRASCH, BYLINE: Hundreds of teachers from some of Colorado's more rural and suburban districts walked out yesterday. Educators marched around the capitol dressed in red T-shirts and jackets, a nod to the larger Red for Ed movement that spurred teacher walkouts in Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Arizona teachers also marched on their capitol yesterday and are out until further notice. At the Denver rally, Jeff Garkow led cheers with a bullhorn.

JEFF GARKOW: (Chanting) You have left me no choice. Now I use my teacher voice.

BRASCH: Garkow is a social studies teacher from Columbine High School near Littleton, Colo. He came because he feels Colorado lawmakers haven't done enough to support K-12 education.

GARKOW: I think it's time that Colorado state legislature pays up. And unfortunately, it's the teachers who are going to have to really push them to do that.

BRASCH: Colorado ranks near the bottom of all states for funding per student. In a U.S. Census analysis of state funding, it was 37th. The Education Law Center puts the state dead last for wage competitiveness, which means teachers with higher levels of education earn less than they would in other states.

Stephanie Vitulli teaches drama in Highlands Ranch, a Denver suburb. She says low pay and low school funding have put her in a double bind.

STEPHANIE VITULLI: You know, I'm providing students with pencils and notebooks on a daily basis out of my own pocket because they can't learn if they can't write it down.

BRASCH: In Colorado, lawmakers generally have less power to meet demands from teachers. Districts set salaries, not the state assembly, and only voters can approve tax increases.

Martha Patton is an instructional coach working with high school teachers in a Denver suburb. She wants lawmakers to support a proposed initiative that would fund schools with a new tax on wealthy Coloradans.

MARTHA PATTON: Get that on the ballot and encourage people to support it so that education funding and finance can be revived.

PATTON: Colorado's largest school districts will be closed today to accommodate further walkouts. The actions are not a strike, and educators plan to be back in the classroom on Monday.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Brasch in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF WADADA LEO SMITH AND ED BLACKWELL'S "UPRISING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.