An education bill filed on January 20, 2023, has the potential to transform the educational landscape for generations to come, bettering the lives of students and harnessing the knowledge and assets of local communities to improve schools, according to AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos and other education leaders.
The bill, An Act Empowering Students and Schools To Thrive (or the Thrive Act, for short), would equip local communities with the tools and resources that students and schools need to succeed, and dramatically reduce the harm caused by the high-stakes, punitive use of standardized tests, such as state takeovers and denying students high school diplomas.
Stand up for our students and schools by using our advocacy tool to email your state senator and state representative urging them to co-sponsor the Thrive Act!
Amid high inflation, retired educators and other public retirees face rising costs for food, rent, gas, healthcare, and other household expenses. But the state’s system for determining annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) involves a base rate of just $13,000 – a rate that has not been adjusted since 2011. That’s hardly enough to make ends meet. House Bill 2505 filed by Representative Donahue and Senate Bill 1638 filed by Senator Cyr would ensures greater economic security for retired educators by immediately increasing the COLA base to $18,000, and then gradually increasing the base until it reaches the maximum social security benefit for an individual worker retiring at full retirement age. The legislation would also protect retirees from rising healthcare costs by exempting them from any reductions in a governmental unit’s contributions to health premiums, and by defining the maximum out-of-pocket health care coverage costs for retirees over the age of 65 who are not eligible for Medicare as $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families.
In 2001, Massachusetts introduced Teachers' Alternate Retirement Plan (TARP) or Retirement Plus, an enhanced retirement option for teachers, school nurses, related service providers and other educators with a deduction rate of 11%. All educators hired after July 1, 2001 were automatically enrolled in the new program, but current educators had only 6 months to opt in. A complicated process and confusing branding meant that many educators didn’t properly enroll, or thought they were enrolled when they really weren’t. (For instance, the branding of TARP as “Retirement Plus” caused many eligible teachers to think they were already in the program when they saw a deduction of “9+2%” on their paychecks). Others were unenrolled from the program without notice when they transferred between different school districts. As a result, several thousand educators will have to work for 3-5 years longer to earn the maximum retirement benefit. House Bill 2483 filed by Representative Consalvo, Senate Bill 1702 filed by Senator Miranda, House Bill 2630 filed by Representative Peisch, and Senate Bill 1741 filed by Senator Timilty would allow current non-TARP educators to opt into the enhanced TARP retirement benefits that current employees receive, by paying the difference between what they’ve paid in deductions since 2001 and what they would have paid if they had opted in at the time. This “make-up amount” could be paid in either a payment plan or in one lump-sum payment. The legislation would require modest additional state funding of teacher retirement benefits, and would result in substantial savings to local school districts through the retirement of R+ educators and the hiring of new teachers at significantly lower salaries.
Everyone deserves a secure retirement, especially those who devoted their career to public service. The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) threatens that by substantially reducing or eliminating the EARNED social security benefits of the millions of retired teachers and public employees who contributed to Social Security through other employment. Thousands more are penalized every year as they retire from public service because their state, municipality, or school district does not participate in the Social Security system.
This unfair penalty also contributes to the current teacher and educator shortages, as it serves as a disincentive for those looking to join the ranks of teachers as a second career when they learn that the WEP-GPO penalty will jeopardize their earned Social Security benefits if they enter the classroom.
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Members of Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA) are the students, parents, educators, community and union members who stand united in support of the most essential public good, one conceived in our state two centuries ago: universal, free public education.
MEJA partner organizations and activists including AFT Massachusetts believe that public education, pre-kindergarten through college, is the foundation of our democracy. Public education must be protected and “cherished,” as our state Constitution demands.
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