No dual teaching, more mental health professionals in our schools, grant funding to improve indoor air quality, uninterrupted duty-free lunch periods, pension credit review, and other important benefits for teachers and students were the rewards of all our hard work during this legislative session.
The session ended at midnight last night and was a huge success for us, with legislators passing mental health bills SB 1, SB 2, and HB 5001 unanimously or with overwhelming majorities and bipartisan support. Legislators also passed a $24 billion annual state budget (HB 5506) that provides mental health supports for students, additional school funding, money for indoor air quality, and so much more. The bills now head to the governor, who is expected to sign them into law.
You are the secret sauce that made this happen. I want to extend my sincere appreciation to all of you who took the time to email, call, and meet with your legislators to educate them about the needs of our students and the educators who serve them.
This was my first legislative session as CEA president, and I can honestly say I didn’t know what to expect or how frenetic it was going to be. But through all the late-night and weekend meetings with legislators, impromptu discussions, and private, closed-door negotiations, we found our way to some real change. There were thousands of pages of bills to read, and I brought our amendments and suggested changes to key leaders, trying to persuade them to consider and accept our modifications. I took the opportunity to build bridges with key legislators, working across party lines to find commonsense solutions to benefit all Connecticut students, and created coalitions with other like-minded stakeholders working for the common good. Our team worked incredibly hard to get your voices heard where decisions were being made.
This was truly a team effort. CEA kept you and your local leaders updated on progress regarding bills we were supporting, and when the time was right, we reached out to all of you to join our efforts and share your personal stories. Through Action Alerts, member meetings with legislators, and our What You Don’t See campaign, you informed legislators and helped them understand what really goes on in our classrooms. You made all the difference by simply telling your story.
Your efforts were impactful. Several legislators told me that they were moved to action on our mental health bills when they heard directly from teachers about challenges their students were facing. Your stories made this more than just rhetoric; they made this personal. On numerous occasions, legislators told me how impressed they were to receive so many emails and phone calls and to see so many teachers wearing #RedforEd at the Capitol, at school, and on social media on CEA’s #RedforEd Day of Action on April 27.
State Representative Eleni Kavros-DeGraw told Avon Education Association President Jon Moss how moved she was that teachers filled her inbox with emails and that she was doing her best to keep up with them and to respond to every member. Your stories matter.
We also made inroads on other teacher priorities, including indoor air quality. The legislature provided grant funding to fix HVAC problems and will require inspections of all school HVAC systems. A task force will make recommendations for humidity and temperature standards, protocols, and best practices for addressing IAQ issues, but there is more work to be done.
We did not get approval of our proposal to provide pandemic pension credit to educators. Rest assured, we will continue to advocate strongly for this proposal and for you. Legislators created a Teacher Recruitment Task Force in SB 1, charged with exploring incentives to recruit and retain educators, including measures related to the Teachers’ Retirement System, such as our pandemic pension credit. We will be ready to take on issues in the task force assignments.
The hardest part of the legislative change process is accepting that critical issues often take several sessions to receive support. What seems so clear to those of us in the trenches takes time to be understood by those who do not live our lives. But we have some good friends and strong advocates at the Capitol with whom we will continue to work to bring legislation forward that will establish school temperature standards, a pandemic pension credit, and so much more. My friends, this session is just the beginning of things to come – stay tuned.
Thank you for all you do, and know that we will continue to fight for you.
Kate Dias, CEA President
Find out more about our legislative victories, and watch for the complete session wrap up in the May/June edition of the CEA Advisor.