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Teachers Union Wants More Pay; Jobs Numbers Still in Recovery; Zoning Laws Mayhem and More

Teacher Union Wants Equity for Thee but Not for Me 

State teacher unions had much to say at Wednesday’s (March 15) Education Committee public hearing. They showed up supporting pay increases for teachers and paraeducators, while simultaneously opposing legislation that promotes equity in education for students. A bill co-sponsored by Sen. Jan Hochadel (D-13), who is also president of the Connecticut American Federation of Teachers, establishes a minimum salary for teachers and paras. It also requires boards of education to offer paras the Municipal Employee Health Insurance Plan and pay their contribution required under their retirement systems. 

Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) wrote in her testimony that compensation is a “key factor” to the states teacher shortage and that allocating $600 million in surplus funds to teacher raises will fix the problem. She believes it is a “question of equity” and cites the raises enacted in the 1986 Teacher Enhancement Act — which costs taxpayers a total of $300 million. The thought was that the higher pay would attract much more talented people into the teaching profession. She stated the state saw the shortage turn around within three years. 

Ms. Dias failed to mention that the increased salary caused many veteran teachers to postpone retirements, thus not leaving any room for new teachers.  The economy was also in a decline at that time causing towns to see a less financial state report than was expected. School budgets were rejected resulting in many towns raising class sizes and eliminating special school programs.  

CEA isn’t just looking for starting salaries to be increased. Ms. Dias told the committee “you got to move everybody; this has to be that kind of wave that lifts all the boats.” 

President of the Hartford Federation of Paraeducators, Shellye Davis also weighed in, stating in her in-person testimony that, “there is a crisis in our classrooms. Connecticut has more than 1,300 unfilled paraeducator positions across the state.” It is unclear if Ms. Davis, who is also a para in the Hartford school system, utilized her paid union time to be in person while her classroom is in crisis. 

It should also be noted that three committee members, Rep. Christopher Poulos (D-81), Rep. Kevin Brown (D-56) and Rep. Maryam Khan (D-5) are all teachers and will be voting to give themselves raises. (Side note: they also skipped class in order to be in person for the hearing). 

The committee also heard from the public on legislation that would require boards of education to post online curriculum materials and nutritional value of school meals; the posting of meeting agenda and associated documents on board of education websites; and calls for studies on the fiscal impact of school voucher programs and implementing a statewide virtual school for children with medical conditions or those who are unvaccinated. The bill calls for any virtual school “to be created with consideration given to best practices in remote learning, technological capabilities of students throughout the state and equity”  

CEA is not interested in equity and submitted testimony opposing the bill. 

Close but no Cigar 

Revised benchmark job numbers for 2022 were released by the Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL) on Friday (March 10). The state has recovered approximately 95 percent of the jobs lost caused by the government shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. The private sector regained 96.9 percent of lost jobs but the government didn’t fare as well, regaining only 68 percent. 

The restaurant industry has now regained 99 percent of jobs lost during the pandemic and child daycare and hospital workers have fully recovered. At the opposite end, the finance, manufacturing and information sectors all saw a decline. 

Between January 2022 and January 2023, unemployment dropped from 4.8 percent to 3.9 percent. In the press release, Commissioner Danté Bartolomeo said, “This is positive news that speaks to the underlying strength of the state’s economy. Connecticut’s unemployment rate remains low and stable.” The state also added 35,300 jobs and has roughly 100,000 job vacancies. 

However, the report goes on to show that the overall labor force has shrunk by 25,000 workers when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Multiple reasons were cited including retirements, family care and concerns about COVID.  

Work Live Ride or Else bill 

The Planning and Development Committee heard testimony on Wednesday (March 15) on a bill — known as “Work Live Ride” — that will give incentives in the form of grants to municipalities that change their zoning to allow for transit-oriented development (TOD) within a half mile of bus and train stations. A municipality will not be eligible for funding until zoning regulations are changed or will be required to return funds they have received if its zoning commission does not enact regulations within eighteen months. 

TOD is a planning and design strategy that promotes urban development that is compact, mixed-use, pedestrian and bike friendly.  

Proponents of the bill such as Pete Harrison, Director of Desegregate Connecticut, submitted testimony stating that the bill “aims to reject, once and for all, this false choice of ‘local control’ vs ‘state mandates.’ We are not just residents of a specific town or city and we’re not just residents of Connecticut. We are both.” 

Meanwhile, Yankee Institute Director of External Affairs Bryce Chinault submitted testimony opposing the bill stating that “many of the terms in the bill will be defined by a ‘coordinator’ in a new and expanded Office of Responsible Growth. This unelected position would have the authority to determine if a municipality is located with a ‘reasonable distance’ of a ‘qualifying bus transit community.’” He went on to point out that “this shift in policymaking in Connecticut would wrest planning and zoning decisions out of the hands of locally elected officials who most directly reflect the preferences of local communities. 

You’re Cordially Invited to a Movie Premiere (for Free!) 

Our friends at Moving Picture Institute — a film company and talent incubator that produces stories about human freedom — is inviting you to the Connecticut premiere of their latest film Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game. The movie is based on the real-life story of pinball wizard, Roger Sharpe, who in 1976 helped overturn New York City’s 35-year ban on pinball.   

 The screening is at 7 p.m., tomorrow, March 17, at Westbrook Cinemas, 314, Flatrock Place, Westbrook, Conn. Register here for the FREE tickets, using code FRND (all caps) — but sign up soon as seats are limited. Watch the full trailer here. 

Meghan Portfolio

Meghan worked in the private sector for two decades in various roles in management, sales, and project management. She was an intern on a presidential campaign and field organizer in a governor’s race. Meghan, a Connecticut native, joined Yankee Institute in 2019 as the Development Manager. After two years with Yankee, she has moved into the policy space as Yankee’s Manager of Research and Analysis. When she isn’t keeping up with local and current news, she enjoys running–having completed seven marathons–and reading her way through Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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