Thousands of Colorado teachers gathered at the Capitol building in Denver on Friday for the second day of walkouts and rallies calling for better pay, more school funding and pension reform.
About 2,000 people took part in Thursday's rally, chanting "Fund our schools!" and meeting with state lawmakers to discuss bills still being hashed out that will make changes to the state's pension program and what most teachers said is an underfunded K-12 education system in Colorado.
The teachers wore red as part of the #RedforEd campaign that has swept across states like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona – where teachers also were holding rallies Thursday and Friday.
In all, the state's 10 largest districts will be closed between Thursday and Friday, most of them on Friday. Approximately 502,000 students attend those districts, according to state Department of Education records.
Friday's events kicked off at 9 a.m. at Civic Center Park. There will be activities planned throughout the day at the Capitol Building. A formal rally is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Near the onset of the day's activities, Denise Hart, a Loveland teacher, said she was most concerned about PERA, class sizes and a lack of school buses in Loveland.
"We need funding for class size, it makes all the difference. I also feel like I pay over $800 a year out of my own pocket to fund things in my classroom to meet the needs of kinds that aren't being funded by the state," she said.
Hart said she was impressed at the large crowd sizes Friday morning.
"This is incredible. It was all we hoped for," Hart said. "It is so uplifting to know that all these voices are standing together for our students and our kids."
Fourth-grader Jay Campbell said he attended the rally with his mom and "a bunch of school teacchers."
He said he was there "so they (teachers) get paid more, because they should."
"They're doing a lot more and they're not getting paid enough," Campbell said.
A Colorado Springs teacher at the rally said she thought teachers felt newly empowered by other teachers and by the support they've received in Colorado.
"They care for our education. They care for us. It's cool they're supporting our schools and what they do for us," said Caleb, one of her students. "Not a lot of kids feel like they're supported enough, or they don't get the care at home they deserve."
Another student, Cayden, said he was out to support his mother and grandmother, who are both teachers.
Chad, whose wife is a preschool and special education teacher and whose children attend Emerald Elementary in Broomfield, said he and his family regularly attend rallies.
"We've gotten used to it the past couple of years -- devoting our time to good causes and whatnot. And this one hits pretty close to home," he said. "It's her livelihood, and they're underpaid, under-respected. So we're out here trying to take care of that."
"I want my mom to have her own retirement house. I don't want her to have to live with me," one of their daughters said. "I love going on field trips, but if there's no funding, we can't go on them. And we learn a lot on the field trips!"
"It's just great to see everyone out here supporting our students. We're really out here for the kids, making a difference for our future," said another teacher. "We want equitable access to education for all ages and all abilities."
"My school is going to a four-day week because of funding cuts next school year," said Cavin Johnson, a sixth-grader at Vikan Middle School in Brighton. "I'm not very happy. I prefer a five-day school week so I'm not getting home late every day."
Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed the teachers shortly after 11:30 p.m. and tried to explain what his administration has done to try and pay down the so-called "negative factor" in school funding, which currently sits around $670 million, Hickenlooper said.
"When the state went through the recession...in essence, the state borrowed over $1 billion for education. I know it's not enough. We share that frustration," Hickenlooper said, but he added that he wanted lawmakers to pass plans to pay the negative factor down to zero over the next few years.
"That's still $670 million that you guys are owed," Hickenlooper said, to chants of "Where is it?!"
Hickenlooper said he was working with the state pension system, PERA, to "secure $225 million into PERA every year, year after year."
"We see you. We hear you. We are working with you -- not just today. And I understand that there is debt going back that we are paying down," Hickenlooper said. "We're here to make that commitment as long as we can -- get that negative factor down to zero so you can all keep inspiring the next generation of Coloradans, the next generation of Americans."
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