Thousands of Colorado teachers are expected to take part in rallies Thursday and Friday as they call for more school funding, better pay, and reforms to the state pension system that has unfunded liabilities in the billions.
Colorado's 10 largest school districts, and others, will be closed either Thursday or Friday for the teacher rallies – the latest to happen in Colorado and across the country in recent weeks in states where teachers say they are underpaid and their schools underfunded.
Approximately 502,000 students attend those 10 districts, according to state Department of Education records.
Additionally, some teachers at schools that already have four-day weeks or had pre-planned in-service days plan to take party in the rallies.
On both Thursday and Friday, according to the Colorado Education Association, the teachers will take part in "Lobby Days" at the Capitol starting at 9 a.m., where they plan to meet with lawmakers and rally outside.
Then, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on both days, there will be "Action in Civic Center Park" rallies, which will include food trucks and bands.
And both days will commence with the larger rallies on the west steps of the state Capitol, where the teachers will press lawmakers for the changes they are asking for. Thursday's rally will be at 1:30 p.m., while Friday's will be held at 2 p.m. Extra Colorado State Patrol officers are expected to be on hand for safety reasons, the agency said.
Among those requests, according to the CEA, are that the state make down payments of at least $150 million this year on the so-called "negative factor" and to pay it off by 2022. State public schools are underfunded by $822 million, according to the CEA.
The teachers' union is also calling for the reduction or freezing of corporate tax breaks until lawmakers restore school funding, and are pushing a ballot initiative to raise taxes on some Coloradans. Proponents say if the initiative is passed, it would raise more than $1 billion each year for public education.
Department of Education data says the average teacher salary in Colorado for the 2017-18 school year was $52,728.
The teachers' union is also hoping that lawmakers will back an amended version of a PERA reform bill passed by Democrats on the House Finance Committee that changed other amendments made by Senate Republicans. The sparring is expected to continue through the end of the session.
Lawmakers included about $5.7 billion in this year's education budget, which could be pushed to around $7 billion with added local funding, according to the governor's office.
Two Republican state lawmakers have caused uproar across the state after introducing a bill that would allow teachers to be fined or jailed for up to six months, and be fired by their school, for participating in a strike.
One of them says he plans to amend the bill to punish teachers' unions, and Senate Democrats on Wednesday pledged to defeat the bill altogether.
For a full list of the districts closed Thursday or Friday because of the rallies, click here.
Denver7 will have coverage of the rallies both days. Stay tuned for more.