© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Denver Teachers Vote To Authorize A Strike

Denver Public School teachers gather in the district's bargaining room on Thursday, Jan. 17.
Jenny Brundin
CPR News
Denver Public School teachers gather in the district's bargaining room on Thursday, Jan. 17.

The teachers union in Denver has voted to approve a strike that could begin as soon as Jan. 28. It would be the first time the city has seen a teacher strike in almost 25 years.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association finished voting late Tuesday after more than a year of negotiations between the union and the district, which have failed to yield an agreement.

"Denver teachers overwhelmingly agreed to strike," said Rob Gould, the union's lead negotiator, at a press conference Tuesday. He unveiled that 93 percent of members had voted to go ahead with strike plans. "They're striking for better pay. They're striking for our profession. And they're striking for Denver students."

In the event of a strike, schools would remain open, according to the city's school superintendent, Susana Cordova. Substitute teachers would be paid double the normal rate, up to $250 a day, to cover classes while teachers are striking.

The union encouraged parents to continue sending their children to school during the strike. A union-authored FAQ document being shared on Facebook claims that "one major goal of the strike is for school buildings to be shut down as a demonstration of the essential labor performed by educators." Without teachers to staff buildings, "the district will be obliged to close schools if safety becomes an issue."

A big reason teachers are striking? A pay incentive system that Denver voters funded in 2005. The system grants certain teachers bonuses for working in high-poverty schools and in hard-to-staff content areas, such as secondary special education. Union leaders say the system keeps base salaries lower for more teachers. To fix this, they propose reducing some incentive bonuses, raising base salaries and giving teachers more opportunities to work toward higher pay through professional development.

But reducing incentive payouts is a sticking point for the district. Leaders claim that the bonuses help attract and retain teachers at high-poverty schools. Superintendent Susana Cordova has said that these bonuses are a top priority.

The district offered to raise salaries by 10 percent between this year and next. But by the time of the strike vote, the district and union budget proposals differed by $8 million.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association represents over 5,600 educators in Denver's district-run schools, which serve about 71,000 students. An additional 21,000 students attend district-authorized charter schools, which would not be involved in the strike. Over half of Denver students are Latino, and approximately 67 percent qualify for free- or reduced-lunch programs.

This would be the first strike for Denver teachers since 1994, when they walked off the job for five days in pursuit of salary increases, more influence on curriculum decisions and improvements in working conditions.

The drama in Colorado comes on the heels of a strike by Los Angeles teachers, which began on Jan. 14. Educators in Oakland, Calif., are also weighing a strike. In Virginia, thousands of teachers plan to demonstrate at the state Capitol, calling for an increase to teacher pay as the legislature considers tax breaks for Amazon, which is building a new headquarters in Arlington.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elissa Nadworny covers higher education and college access for NPR. She's led the NPR Ed team's multiplatform storytelling – incorporating radio, print, comics, photojournalism, and video into the coverage of education. In 2017, that work won an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation. As an education reporter for NPR, she's covered many education topics, including new education research, chronic absenteeism, and some fun deep-dives into the most popular high school plays and musicals and the history behind a classroom skeleton.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.