Resisting Discriminatory Policies Targeting Teachers

Click here for a full summary of the state budget's impact on members, their families and communities.
The governor earlier this year proposed two schemes that did not make it into the final budget that lawmakers last Thursday passed with a veto-proof majority. His planned overhaul of local communities' Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding and shifting the state's obligation for teacher retirement costs onto struggling municipalities would have negatively impacted students' learning opportunities.
Both harmful measures were defeated in large part due to the collective activism of union members in AFT Connecticut and the Connecticut Education Association (CEA). Together, our members over the past 10 months made tens of thousands of direct appeals to their elected representatives — in one-on-one visits, by phone and via e-mail.
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"I am so proud of our teachers for standing up for their students, their schools and themselves," said Mary Yordon (above, right), a French teacher at Ponus Ridge Middle School in Norwalk. "By partnering with elected leaders to take on the secret 'teacher tax' in the previous budget, we brought a discriminatory policy to light. That helped prevent a far worse outcome — and showed the kind of united front we need going forward," added Yordon, the president of our affiliated Norwalk Federation of Teachers.
Yordon's comments refer to an occupational tax targeting teachers by unilaterally raising annual pension contributions a percentage point beginning in 2018, with the funds paid into the Teachers Retirement System (TRS). Union members in September helped expose a hidden provision in the toxic state budget vetoed by the governor that would have hiked educators' annual costs by two percent. That earlier scheme was written to divert the resources away from the TRS and instead direct them into the general operating fund.
While teachers' increased contributions — approximately $750.00 annually — are being properly invested in their pension fund, the compromise budget also cuts the state's TRS investments by an equivalent amount. The result translates into an occupational tax targeting educators — precisely what thousands of union members warned lawmakers against supporting.
Click here for our joint letter with CEA to lawmakers opposing the secret teacher tax.
"This budget shows just how 'all in' we need to be as advocates," said Stephen McKeever (right), a science teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown. “Lawmakers have once again delayed the long-overdue tax cut for retired teachers they passed three years ago, despite the obvious economic benefits. The lesson is that actually enacting policies that benefit working people takes a sustained effort beyond a single session," added McKeever, a Middletown Federation of Teachers vice president.
McKeever's comments refer to a provision in the compromise package deferring for another year an income tax credit for Connecticut's retired educators scheduled for April, 2018. The original plan for exempting 50% of teachers' pensions from state income taxes was to be phased-in over a two-year period; lawmakers since extended it to three.
The proposal initially passed in 2014 following years of advocacy by members of AFT, CEA and our partners in the Association of Retired Connecticut Teachers (ARTC). The policy — which empowers retirees to spend additional dollars in local economies — has each year faced threats of delay and cancellation from lawmakers refusing to consider better budget choices.
Click here for press coverage of legislative leaders' earlier efforts to delay the tax credit.
"The take-away from this protracted fight for a fair budget is that elections have consequences," said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. "The result of last year’s legislative races is a General Assembly with fewer lawmakers who put working people first. Yes, we have immediate work to do to prepare for the 2018 session opening in February. Equally important will be our plan for the 2018 General Election next November," added Hochadel, who previously taught physics and science in the state's technical high schools.
Hochadel's comments refer to the loss of pro-worker majorities in both chambers of Connecticut's legislature following the 2016 General Election. In addition to last week's passage of the compromise state budget, majorities in September passed a far more toxic package that would have rolled back collective bargaining rights. That followed a regular legislative session in which hundreds of individual anti-union proposals fueled a political atmosphere of persecution against public employees.
Click here for our previous report on members' advocacy for a "fair share" state budget that works for working people.