The 50th annual convention of the AFT Massachusetts featured the election of a new president, a visit from Senator Elizabeth Warren, and a stirring speech from national AFT President Randi Weingarten. Approximately 300 delegates from AFT locals throughout Massachusetts attended the gathering in Quincy on April 27 and 28.
Salem Teachers Union leader Beth Kontos was elected the new President of the AFT Massachusetts at the convention.
“I’m humbled by the support of my AFT colleagues and honored to have the opportunity to advocate for educators, students, and families at this critical time,” she told the delegates.
“Educators and their students across the state face underfunded schools, continued privatization efforts, and a flawed accountability system that rewards endless test preparation at the expense of deeper learning, and measures poverty more than it measures progress,” she added. “I’m not afraid to use my ‘teacher voice’ to stand up for educators and students who just want the support they need to teach and learn.”
A history teacher at Salem High School since 2004, Kontos has served as President of the Salem Teachers Union since 2014. She has also taught history as an adjunct professor at North Shore Community College since 2009. She holds a BA in History and Spanish and a MA in history, both from Salem State University.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was one of the featured speakers at the Saturday session. Senator Warren touched upon the disastrous Turmp/DeVos duo, of course. The bulk of her remarks, however, focused on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and the $350 million forgiveness fund she fought for to help teachers. Her legislation will help fix eligibility issues encountered by borrowers who expect to get Public Service Loan Forgiveness, but find themselves stuck in the wrong program.
“Tens of thousands of teachers and other public servants think they are enrolled in this program, but they actually aren’t,” Warren told the delegates. “In fact, they are in one of the many other student loan repayment programs, which means their 10-year clock may not have even started and they won’t get any loan forgiveness. Some people don’t discover this until they have spent years and years in the wrong program. It’s a nightmare.”
Representatives from Senator Warren’s office passed out handouts with information on how teachers can enroll in Public Service Loan Forgiveness or check to make sure they’re properly enrolled. Teachers can learn more here.
Immediately following Senator Warren, AFT President Randi Weingarten spoke of teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona who look to Massachusetts and the AFT for inspiration. “It is your victory against the charter school ballot question that gives them inspiration to stand up for their rights as teachers,” Weingarten said. AFT Massachusetts was a leader in the fight against Question 2 in 2016, which would have lifted the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts and cost local school districts millions of dollars each year.
Barbara Madeloni, president of our sister union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, confirmed Weingarten’s comments about our state as a beacon for teachers nationally. Madeloni called on delegates to extend the winning streak and fight for passage of the Fair Share Amendment, which would create an additional tax on annual income above one million dollars to fund transportation and public education, from pre-K and K-12 schools to our public college and universities. “Our state constitution says we must ‘cherish’ our public schools,” Madeloni said. “This year we have the chance to permanently dedicate the funds to fulfill that promise.”
In addition, the convention voted unanimously for resolutions that call for full funding of our public schools and greater restrictions on firearms to protect students and teachers from gun violence. Another resolution opposed the use of backdoor attempts to privatize local public schools, known as ‘Innovation Partnership Zones.’
President Kontos concluded the convention by saying, “As an active classroom teacher, I understand the pressures and challenges facing educators today. I also know first-hand what our students need to succeed. We must fight for full funding of public schools, libraries, and higher education.
“Our students need joyful learning environments, and our schools need sensible accountability systems that are about support, not punishment. Together, we can give all students the support they deserve, ensure that our schools are fully funded and staffed, and bring a sense of joy back to teaching and learning.”