The administration’s mischaracterization of educators as somehow seeking to take vaccines away from the sick and elderly is untrue and defamatory. Several union leaders had a cordial meeting with Secretary Marylou Sudders this morning concerning the Last Mile Vaccine Delivery Plan, which has been endorsed by health experts across the state. Secretary Sudders asked if we thought she should divert vaccines from other high-need groups to give to educators, and we emphatically declined.
We suggested, instead, that some of the doses designated for educators via the mass vaccination sites be sent to local communities so they could be administered to school employees efficiently and effectively at the local level, with facilitation by firefighters and nurses.
On March 10, President Biden signed the hugely important and broadly popular American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion bill designed to help working families and those Americans hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. More than 70 percent of Americans—including majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents—support the American Rescue Plan.
Passage of this bill wasn’t a sure thing. Your senators needed to hear from you about how important it was to have a coronavirus rescue and economic stimulus plan that helped working families—not another giveaway to Fortune 500 companies and the mega-rich. Your senators needed their constituents to let them know that the real danger wasn’t the price tag, but in passing a bill that was too small.
The ability of working people to join together to collectively bargain for fair pay and working conditions is a fundamental right. When working people join a union, they have a voice on the job and the ability to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, and working conditions. Unions are crucial in fostering a vibrant middle class and reducing income inequality. When unions are strong, they set wage standards for entire industries and occupations, they make wages more equal within occupations, and they help close racial and gender wage gaps.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen clearly just how important unions are for working people. By joining together through our union, we can win safer working conditions, earn better pay and benefits, and advocate together for public policy changes that we would never get on our own,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “We also know that when more workers have a strong union, it improves wages, benefits, and working conditions for all workers because even non-unionized employers must compete to attract qualified employees. But after years of attacks on union rights, millions of private-sector workers face significant obstacles when they want to join a union. The PRO Act would change that, allowing millions of workers to organize and bargain for their collective rights.”
Paraprofessionals, or Paras, provide instructional, behavioral, and other support to students, especially students with special education needs such as physical or developmental disabilities. That work includes everything from helping students with schoolwork to feeding and diapering them. A typical day includes de-escalating behavioral issues, helping students communicate, supporting students with physical disabilities move about the classroom and building daily living skills. Paras are often simultaneously working as educators, caregivers, guidance counselors, and translators – all wrapped up in one job.
This year has brought widespread recognition and thanks for the work that essential workers do, but kind words don’t pay the bills. There’s nothing more essential than caring for and supporting our highest-needs kids. It’s time for the New Bedford Public Schools to do the right thing, and give us the raise we deserve.
Educators share the goal of safely returning as many students to physical classrooms as possible. The way we do that is by investing in the school safety measures we've been demanding for almost a year: rapid surveillance testing, ventilation upgrades to prevent transmission, and vaccinations for educators and for our students' vulnerable family members. In districts across Massachusetts, educators are working with parents and administrators to overcome the obstacles to safe school reopening, and we've successfully reopened many school buildings for the highest-need students with proper safety measures in place. Even amid this winter's high levels of COVID-19 transmission, more than half of Massachusetts educators are now teaching in the classroom.
But throughout the last year, our state government has prioritized indoor dining, casinos, and other venues that lead to high levels of community spread, rather than focusing on curtailing community transmission and reopening school safely with surveillance testing and ventilation upgrades. Amid the Baker administration's failed vaccine rollout, the state is the one obstacle standing in the way of the plan developed by the teachers and fire fighters unions to vaccinate educators in their local communities.
“My involvement with wellness programming started when the rising cost of insurance premiums made me think outside the box,” said Cindy Yetman. “I believe our partnership with the City of Amesbury and MIIA Blue Cross Blue Shield to offer health and wellness programming has allowed our health insurance premium rates to maintain some stability.”
“We have been able to offer better benefits for our city employees in our most recent renewals.” she said. “In the past we actually were able to decrease dental premium costs and add more robust coverage. I believe the benefits for our city and our employees has made this work worthwhile.”
Significant federal and state aid for schools may have already arrived in your school district—and more may be on the way, from both federal and state sources. This story, current as of early February 2021, provides a breakdown of what has already happened—and what to expect in the coming months.
First Round of Federal Support for K-12 Education: ESSER I and COVID Relief Fund
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, the U.S. Congress enacted a sweeping $2.2. trillion relief bill in March 2020 called the CARES Act—The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
“Rather than fully funding the Student Opportunity Act on the original promised timeline, Governor Baker’s proposed budget uses the pandemic as an excuse to further delay the commitment to students made under the law. Rather than investing in public colleges to support existing students and unemployed workers looking for affordable job training, his proposal maintains the status quo in our underfunded public higher education system.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the inequities in our public schools and colleges, and illustrate the harmful results of inadequate education funding. Unfortunately, the Governor’s budget proposal would continue the Commonwealth’s past pattern of delayed investments that harm students. The budget would also cut funding to school districts that experienced temporary dips in enrollment during the pandemic, meaning that students who return in September would come back to classrooms without adequate funding that accurately reflects true enrollment in fall 2021.
“Our book, clothing, and school supply giveaway was a huge success. It was great to have the opportunity to put books in the hands of our students, and make sure they have warm clothes they need to get fresh air and explore the outdoors this winter,” said Lawrence Teachers’ Union President Kim Barry. “I’m grateful to all the LTU members who volunteered their time to sort and distribute these important supplies, and to all those who have volunteered regularly at the Mobile Food Market to ensure that Lawrence families have healthy food to eat. Lawrence continues to be hit hard by the pandemic, and it will take community support efforts like this for us to get through the winter together.”
“We love making our students smile, even when it’s behind their masks. Especially now, when many students can’t be in the classroom safely, it’s important to ensure that students have age-appropriate books at home,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “I want to thank the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation for partnering with us to support our students during the pandemic, with a focus on the communities like Lawrence that have been affected most by COVID-19.”
Betsy DeVos has resigned as Secretary of Education, and under the incoming Biden administration, federal education policy will be led by an educator and public school graduate, Connecticut state education commissioner Miguel Cardona. For the first time in four years, public school educators will have a partner in Washington. But the right-wing effort to dismantle public education in the United States isn’t going away without a fight. And we can’t win that fight without understanding how and why it began.
On February 10 at 7:00 p.m. via Zoom, join AFT members and allies for a webinar to learn about the origins of the war on public education, reflect on the last four years of fighting against the Trump-Devos agenda, and strategize about how to influence public education as a public good moving forward.