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Educators to Lawmakers: “Our Students Can’t Wait”

Details of lawmakers’ plans for recovering resources for the Medicare Savings Program were late last Wednesday made public ahead of the special session originally scheduled for the following day. They tapped the savings from deferring 1% of the state’s annual TRS contribution to cover nearly half the funding needed for the popular benefit for the elderly and disabled.
The Medicare Savings fix was this afternoon passed by lawmakers with wide bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature. While the governor threatened a veto — specifically citing greater pension instability due to diverting $19.4 million in funds — the package won enough support to likely secure an override.
Click here for press reporting on the proposal to shift teacher pension contributions to pay for Medicare Savings.
“This is yet another cost shift that pits one group of middle class families against another,” said Stephen McKeever, a science teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown. “There is nothing fair about asking teachers to pay the price for politicians failing to do their jobs. We are not an ATM machine for legislators who refuse better choices,” added McKeever, who serves as a vice president for our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Middletown Federation of Teachers.
McKeever, along with thousands of fellow educators across the state, this past fall raised similar concerns when a Republican-authored budget that unilaterally hiked teachers’ pension contributions was initially passed. They continued their advocacy and ultimately helped move the governor to veto the package, which also included deep public education funding cuts. 
The compromise state budget eventually passed and signed into law this past fall increased teachers’ pension contributions by half the amount in the toxic original package. While it also reduced Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funds for many communities, it maintained resources for schools in those most negatively impacted by poverty.
Click here for our previous report on the compromise budget’s impact on public schools and educators.
Lawmakers’ unfinished business from last fall includes more than the Medicare Savings program; a deficit of over $200 million for the current biennium has since been reported. The governor in November responded by threatening to close nearly a third of the shortfall with additional ECS cuts. 
“Lawmakers were rightly prepared to take swift action to provide some protection for seniors,” said AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel. “They actually had a two-month window to fix the Medicare Savings funding issue. Where is the urgency regarding the governor’s proposed education cuts? Our students can’t wait,” added Hochadel, who previously taught physics and science in technical high schools in Waterbury and Stamford.
Hochadel last week joined her counterpart in the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) to urge legislators convene a special session to restore ECS funding lapses. In a joint letter with veteran educator Sheila Cohen, they warned that failure to take action very soon would lead to “irreparable harm to our children’s education.”
Click here for the joint letter sent last Friday to each member of the state’s General Assembly.
“Failed austerity policies like these demonstrate why we must elect working people to represent us,” said Rita Hennessey, a library media specialist at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School in New Haven. “Now, more than ever, we need lawmakers who’ve walked a day in our shoes. That’s what our ‘labor is your neighbor’ program is all about,” added Hennessey, a member of our New Haven Federation of Teachers.
Hennessey, who last fall was chosen to serve on the board of education in her hometown of Milford, is among dozens of union members to recently run for elected office. Efforts to identify, recruit, train and support educators, caregivers and state employees as candidates continue into 2018, a year in which the entire General Assembly is up for re-election.
Click here for our previous report on the success or our member candidate program.

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