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Letters: Sen. Merrifield slams Gazette editorial board

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Imagine my pleasant surprise when after years of putting teachers down, the Colorado Springs Gazette in a recent editorial said "our teachers really matter" and that teachers should be paid better. As a retired teacher who taught music in public schools for over 30 years, I could not agree more.

What I take issue with is their claim that Colorado could save "hundreds of millions of dollars" by kicking "able-bodied adults" off Medicaid, and then give that money to teachers. That is not how it works at all. Ninety-five percent of Medicaid costs are paid for by federal dollars, not state general fund dollars that can go to areas like transportation and education. The remaining 5 percent comes from the hospital provider fee, which can only be used for Medicaid expenses.

In other words, the money used for Medicaid expansion cannot go toward teacher pay.

Even more infuriating is that the Gazette's editorial board acts like Colorado underfunding education is this new problem that came around thanks to Obamacare. Spoiler alert: This problem has been going on for decades, going as far back as the '90s.

The amount we underfund our public school classrooms is a travesty, and it is absolutely true that by not offering competitive teacher pay, we're losing great educators to other states. Teacher recruitment is a major problem in our rural areas, and one my colleagues and I have worked to address through different bipartisan bills. The reality is that this is a problem that the legislature keeps punting on, with the education negative factor closing in on $1 billion.

But to try to blame our education funding shortfall on people getting access to health care is morally irresponsible. Let's not forget that Colorado has seen over 31,000 jobs created, an increase in economic activity by $3.8 billion, and our uninsured rate cut in half due to Medicaid expansion. No one ever said Obamacare is perfect, and we need to cut wasteful spending wherever possible. But I find this false choice to either make sure people can go see a doctor, or that we pay teachers more, to be an insult to the honorable profession of teaching.

— Sen. Michael Merrifield, Colorado Senate District 11, Manitou Springs

Editor's note: According to Merrifield, the Gazette declined to print this letter.

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