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News from AFT Massachusetts and President Beth Kontos - March 2023

News from President Beth Kontos

President Kontos with several AFT members at the BTU AFT Massachusetts Paraprofessionals and School Related Personnel Conference
I’m still reeling from this month’s tragic incident of gun violence in Nashville. Each time we are faced with the news of another avoidable school shooting, I am reminded that this problem can be solved. That gun violence is a consequence of decisions made by our nation’s elected leaders. As we work with our state’s leaders to continually strengthen Massachusetts’ nation-leading gun laws, we must all call on Congress to pass needed wait limits, background checks, and “Red Flag” laws.
The problem extends beyond mass shootings. Gun violence affects the lives of our students far too often, inside and outside of schools. We must demand action of our legislators. We cannot rely on thoughts and prayers. Now we are simply angry and must act. AFT has an email tool you can use to tell your federal lawmakers to restore the ban on assault weapons. But the truth is, our legislators in Massachusetts are already supportive. So most importantly, we must have conversations with friends and family members who live in states with less supportive elected officials, and urge them to contact their lawmakers on this issue.
We know from our history that while progress can be slow and uneven, protest and organizing works. March marks Women's History Month and International Women's Day, which originated with labor protests. From the U.S. Department of Labor: “In 1908, an estimated 15,000 women marched to protest the mistreatment of textile workers — mostly immigrants, and mostly women and children. The women advocated for an end to child labor, safer working conditions, better pay and voting rights.” Thank you to all the women in our union who consistently show up every day to serve our students, patients, and patrons.
This week our national president Randi Weingarten gave a speech in defense of public education. First, Randi called out ongoing culture war attacks against educators and connected them to longtime efforts to privatize and defund schools. Second, she laid out an agenda for how to move public education forward in a way that puts the needs of our students first and connects with what parents tell us they want for their schools. That includes four essential strategies:
  1. Community Schools
  2. Experiential Learning (which includes but is broader than CTE)
  3. Restoring the Teaching Profession (which we would expand to supporting school staff systemwide)
  4. Parents and Communities as Partners

Some of this we can advance through legislative advocacy, some of it through our own choices about partnerships and engagement. You can read Randi’s speech here, and watch it here. An AFT news story about the speech is here.  

As many of you know, we are part of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA). MEJA is sponsoring a student art contest entitled “Our Schools, Our Say”! Submissions are open until April 8th, 2023.
The Our Schools, Our Say: Student Art Contest aspires to engage public school students across Massachusetts in visualizing how we can improve our public education system to ensure student success. Eligible students will create a graphic/visual art piece that responds to the following prompt: “What does a perfect school look like to you?” Full guidelines including submission requirements and prize amounts can be found here. Please encourage your students to participate!
Thrive Act: An Act Empowering Students and Schools to Thrive
Through MEJA, we are also working on important legislation that would create a better system of educational assessment and improvement that considers the whole child and focuses on giving students and educators the tools and resources they need to succeed and thrive.
The Thrive Act would replace the state’s failed approach to educational assessment with policies that will help all students to succeed and thrive. Learn more here.
Resources for Earth Week (Sunday April 16 – Saturday April 22nd)
Earth Week is approaching, and it’s a great opportunity to talk to your students about climate change and the work that is needed to protect our environment. Here are some resources that may be helpful this month:
  • Climate and the Classroom: Surveys show that teachers, students and the American public all agree that climate change should be taught in schools—yet K-12 teachers who want to include climate change in their coursework are often unsupported by the curricula, standards and policies that guide their instruction. Join the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative for a free webinar discussion between three climate education specialists about resources for teaching climate, best practices from schools and educational institutions around the U.S., and new ideas to support K-12 teachers at every level. Thursday, April 13, 1-2 pm EDT. Register now.
  • How do we create healthy and sustainable schools while creating good jobs? The Massachusetts AFL-CIO has submitted three bills to help us. Click here to learn more about them.
  • AFT Massachusetts has launched a Climate Caucus that meets monthly to discuss advocacy around environmental issues. You can join the Climate Caucus here.

2023 AFT Massachusetts Convention: Moving Forward Together

The past year has brought important changes to the educational landscape in Massachusetts, from the passage of the Fair Share Amendment to the election of a new Governor who is a strong supporter of public education. In this new era, AFT Massachusetts is working to deliver the schools and libraries our communities deserve, the services and staffing our students need, and the workplace protections AFT Massachusetts members rely on.

On April 29, convention delegates from across the state will celebrate our victories, discuss the battles we face, and be inspired to act. We’ll welcome new members of our union, celebrate new caucuses, hear about important initiatives, and further develop our collective strength as educators and organizers. We’ll hear from speakers, including:
AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos & Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan
AFT President Randi Weingarten
Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman
AFT Massachusetts leaders from across the state
We have multiple important campaigns ahead of us: fully implementing the Student Opportunity Act; ending the failed state takeover/receivership system; fully funding all of our public schools; winning living wages for paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; delivering affordable, high-quality public higher ed for all; providing fair and affordable public retiree benefits; and more. By moving forward together, we have the power to win these victories and build the schools, libraries, and communities we dream of. #AFTMA #MovingForwardTogether23

AFT Massachusetts Praises Education Spending in Governor Healey’s Budget, But Issues Warning About Tax Cuts’ Impact on Future Budgets

“The Governor’s education spending proposal is a big step forward for students and educators in Massachusetts, and represents the Governor’s prioritization of students and their families in her first months in office,” said Kontos. “The Governor’s budget would fully implement another year of the Student Opportunity Act, resulting in more funding for our highest-need schools to hire teachers and support staff, close achievement gaps, and offer the wraparound services our students need to recover from the stresses of the pandemic. At our public colleges and universities, the Governor’s proposal would deliver significant progress on affordability for students while also protecting funding for campuses so they can deliver high-quality education and support services.”
“However, we are concerned that spending hundreds of millions of dollars on tax cuts for the ultra-rich could threaten the Commonwealth’s ability to make good on its education promises in future years,” she continued. “This budget represents only the third of six years of major increases to K-12 education spending that are required under the Student Opportunity Act. Amid record inflation that is straining school budgets, careful financing planning will be required to ensure that this promise to our highest-need students is fulfilled over the next three years. And while the Governor’s budget makes notable investments in public higher education that will begin to make up for the devastating cuts our campuses have experienced over the past few decades, even greater funding will be required to achieve our goal of a fully-funded, fully debt-free public college system.” MORE.

#AFTVoices: Fighting for Justice by Living the Example - A Conversation with Joel Richards

In honor of Black History Month, we sat down with Joel Richards, Boston Teachers Union member, local activist and chair of the BTU’s Black Lives Matter committee. Joel is committed to justice both inside and out outside the classroom, ensuring that he leads by example.
As an educator, Joel feels compelled to correct the wrongs he sees running rampant throughout the education system. “I am going to do what I can to improve the lives of my colleagues and students, especially injustices experienced by students and educators of color.” When asked what motivates Richards, he smiles and says that his energy comes from a much deeper place. “I am motivated by the Christ- like mindset I have. It's urgent. It's needed. Education is very urgent to me. It always has been.” Richards said that as a Christian, he is a person who works towards justice no matter where he is. MORE.

#AFTVoices: Jim Lucia Highlights Roll of MRU in Advocating for Retirees

Jim Lucia said that the founder of MRU, Kathy Kelly, who served as past President of AFT Massachusetts, knew the political power of retirees. MRU’s roughly 2500 members are spread across the country, and volunteer their time with no compensation. COLA has become their primary focus for retirees, amid other issues, and legislation to strengthen retiree benefits and health insurance is a goal for MRU. Lucia said that more cannot be put on the backs of seniors.
“Don't put more on the backs of seniors than they need,” he said. “We need to increase COLA bases and preserve health insurance benefits for our retirees. Local pensions, Medicare and Medicaid all need to be priorities for our retired educators. We have fought and earned them. Don’t balance budgets on the backs of seniors.” MORE.

Retirement Planning Workshop for AFT Members and Proposed Legislation in Support of a Dignified Retirement

AFT Massachusetts is hosting a retirement planning workshop on May 4, 2023 at 6 pm online via Zoom and all members are welcome!
The financial professionals of Teacher Retirement Solutions (TRS) have partnered with AFT Massachusetts and specialize in providing independent financial guidance, strategies and solutions to educators, school employees, librarians and their families throughout New England. Join TRS’ John Gregorio, a Certified Financial Planner, on May 4, 2023 for a comprehensive workshop for prospective retirees. The Massachusetts' public employee retirement formula, Social Security and living in retirement will be among the topics discussed. Please register by completing the form to the right.
What: Retirement Planning Workshop for AFT Members
Who: Members of AFT Massachusetts
Where: Online via Zoom
When: May 4, 2023 from 6 to 8 pm
A Second Chance at Retirement Plus
  • An Act Relative to Teacher Retirement Election (H.2483 filed by Representative Consalvo - S.1702 filed by Senator Miranda)
  • An Act relative to benefits for teachers (H.2630 filed by Representative Peisch)
  • An Act relative to the retirement options of certain educational personnel (S.1741 filed by Senator Timilty)
  • Link to our advocacy tool

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.

H.2483, S.1702, H.2630, and S.1741 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 1, 2, or 3-year increments (via payroll deductions) 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.

Please take a moment and send an email to your State Representative and State Senator asking them to support this bill. Including a few sentences about your own career and financial needs can go a long way – legislators respond best to personal stories from their constituents!
Help Pass An Act to Provide Fair and Affordable Public Retiree Benefits

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. H.2505 and S.1638 would ensure 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.
Please take a moment and send an email to your State Representative and State Senator asking them to support this bill. Including a few sentences about your own career and financial needs can go a long way – legislators respond best to personal stories from their constituents!
Help Repeal the WEP and GPO – Stop Penalizing Our Teachers and Public Employees
Everyone deserves a secure retirement, especially those who have devoted their career to public service. The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) threaten that security 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.
Please take a moment to contact your US Representative and US Senator asking them to support this bill. Including a few sentences about your own career and financial needs can go a long way – legislators respond best to personal stories from their constituents!

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