MTA Supports Cherish and Thrive Acts & Wants Right For Public Education Workers To Strike
In full transparency, the following press release was submitted to SOURCE media for publication.
QUINCY – The Massachusetts Teachers’ Association (MTA) kicked off 2023 with a bold legislative agenda aimed at increasing educational equity through investments in public higher education, as well as further investments in preK-12 public schools, an end to the harmful aspects of the MCAS, the right for public education workers to go on strike, and a more fair and secure retirement for educators through an immediate increase in the COLA base.
This legislative agenda comes on the heels of the historic passage of the Fair Share Amendment in November 2022. The MTA played a major part in driving this historic legislation to success, and it will infuse Massachusetts with up to $2 billion in additional funding every single year for public education and transportation.
“Massachusetts is known world-wide for its top-quality education system, but we also have one of the most unequal educational systems in the country,” said Max Page, President of the MTA. “It’s time for us to drive innovation and change in our state for everyone, from preschoolers to adults trying to get a high-quality, debt-free college education that should be the right of every resident of the Commonwealth. Now that we’ve made our tax system more fair, and generated significant permanent funds, we need to make the investments necessary for our state to be a truly equal place to live for all.”
The bills filed in January include the Cherish Act, which would enable more people to benefit from higher education by creating a debt-free community college program in fiscal year 2024, followed by debt-free four-year college at public universities in subsequent years. The act would also include investments in staff, faculty and the programs necessary for students to succeed.
Massachusetts has an estimated 700,000 residents who started college but never graduated, and data released by the state in August 2022 showed that the numbers of high-school graduates who were immediately enrolling in college was down nearly 10 percentage points from 2017.
The Cherish Act would make public higher education accessible to more Black, brown, and economically disadvantaged young people. The act would also expand eligibility for state health care and retirement benefits to adjunct and part-time faculty, add more funds for student support services, ensure adequate minimum funding for public higher education and require the state to resume coverage of capital construction and maintenance expenses, which are now passed on to local campuses and students in the form of fees which then contribute to crushing student debt.
“Following the historic investment in public preK-12 education, it is time for the Legislature to make the same level of commitment to public higher education,” said Maria Hegbloom, professor at Bridgewater State University and President of the Mass. State College Association. “This bill tackles the biggest challenges facing those trying to access public colleges and universities: costs and support for success. It also finally addresses the exploitation of adjunct faculty and will lead to more equitable working conditions and stable learning conditions across the public higher education system.”
The Thrive Act would end the harmful graduation requirement tied to the MCAS exams, as well as the related and undemocratic state take-over system that has plagued low-income communities of color like Southbridge, Holyoke, and Lawrence. Massachusetts is one of only eight states in the country that currently ties its standardized test to graduation, even though there is no correlation between these exam requirements academic success.
The punitive aspects of this high-stakes testing exacerbate economic and racial inequity, as they are particularly detrimental to students with Individualized Education Plans, students learning English as second language, students of color and students who have been historically marginalized from getting an equitable and supportive education. The bill would replace passage of this test with a course work-based graduation requirement.
“As a teacher for 25 years, I’ve witnessed first-hand how the MCAS harm students and whole communities,” said Vice President of the MTA Deb McCarthy. “Students need a holistic, nurturing education, especially after these tough times we’ve been through. Tying a test to high-school graduation sets many students up for failure while doing nothing to improve our schools. Our young people deserve a better education.”
In other priorities, the MTA is seeking to legalize the right for educators and other public sector workers, excluding public safety officials, to go on strike after six months of unsuccessful bargaining with their employer. The current state law, under which striking for all public sector workers is illegal, restricts the ability of educators to take collective action in support of themselves, their families, and their students. The union is also seeking for Massachusetts to offer retired state employees and educators a more realistic Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in the face of inflation.
In addition, the MTA will also be filing a set of budget proposals to boost our investments above and beyond the annual funding for the Student Opportunity Act, to address challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. The union will call for the creation of grant programs that support the hiring of counselors, mental health professionals, nurses, and librarians, and further providing matching grants to municipalities that negotiate a living wage for Education Support Professions, and create paid family medical leave programs, given that municipal workers are not covered by the states paid family and medical leave law.
The Massachusetts Teachers’ Association represents 115,000 members in 400 local associations throughout Massachusetts.