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Denver teachers union says state lawmakers' efforts won't entirely fix staffing issue

The Colorado State House passed legislation to expand the Temporary Educator Loan Forgiveness Program. The senate must now vote on it.

DENVER — 85% of teachers told their union that classroom staffing shortages are worse than they've ever seen them, and now Colorado lawmakers have advanced several proposals that aim to help.

"I feel defeated, like I'm not doing my best by my students," Denver special education teacher Ellen Petrila said. 

She said coworkers are leaving faster than new ones can replace them, and there's only so much she can do to pick up the slack. 

"We within the school try to fill in within those roles as much as we possibly can to meet student needs," she said. 

The state has some data to back up what Petrila is feeling: The Department of Education reports one in every 10 Colorado teaching positions was vacant at the start of last school year. 

Most of the jobs ended up getting filled somehow, but teachers said they still feel the pinch. 

"Normally you have a bit of a pipeline coming in, but many people are coming in and then they're leaving," explained Robert Gould, president of the Denver Classroom Teacher Association. 

State lawmakers  advanced a bill this week to expand the state's Temporary Educator Loan Forgiveness program, which was established with COVID-19 relief money and set to expire. The state senate will take up the expansion proposal next. 

Lawmakers in the state house also voted to discuss establishing educator license reciprocity with several other states in an effort to allow teachers new to Colorado to more easily enter the state's classrooms. 

Gould said both proposals will help, but neither will entirely fix the school funding issue. He said the state needs to free up more money to fully fund schools and increase teacher salaries. 

But he said there's a broader problem too: Many students today do not want to become teachers. 

"They see what their teachers go through and they often say 'Ew, I don't know. I appreciate you, but I'm looking for something else,'" he said. 

Petrila said it's a change in attitude she's observed over her 10 years of teaching. "I've seen education become more of a customer service role almost," she said. 

On top of salary issues, she said teachers don't feel appreciated, and that's leading many to leave the profession and keeping others away. 

"Sometimes it's easier to find someone else to blame, and I think that sometimes teachers have suffered on that side," she said. 

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