The hallways outside the House and Senate chambers at the State Capitol are filled with red shirts today as educators turn out for CEA’s #RedforEd Fix the Crisis Day of Action. Those who can’t make it to Hartford are sporting their #RedforEd in schools around the state.
“We want these legislators to feel our presence today because we are important, we matter, and this profession matters,” CEA President Kate Dias told active and retired teachers gathered at the Capitol. “It means a great deal to have you all here today.”
Many members of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee disappointed teachers across the state last Friday when they failed to take action on a landmark education bill. There are still pathways for enacting key components of that bill and others into law, but those measures will only move forward if teachers keep up the pressure, Dias said.
She urged members, “Anchor yourself in the authority of your experience. What is really critical today is that our legislators hear the actual impact of the decisions being made. Today is about getting into the nitty-gritty and personalizing the asks so they understand why everything we’re asking for matters in your classrooms with your students.”
Recognizing the CEA-Retired members who came out to the Capitol, CEA Executive Director Donald Williams said, “There are some in this room who can remember 1986 and the Teacher Enhancement Act and all of the effort and personal contact of teachers with legislators that led to that tremendous accomplishment.”
He continued, “We have a legislative agenda this year advocating for teachers and public education that is as ambitious for the very first time as that agenda in 1986. So it takes a lot of heavy lifting in order to make that happen.”
Active and retired members from across the state are prepared to do that heavy lifting and share with their legislators their own personal stories demonstrating why it’s so important to fix the crisis in public education.
“We’re underfunded, we’re overworked, we have more and more to do in the classroom, and more special education students than we’ve ever had before,” said Stamford Education Association President John Corcoran. “We need the help of our state legislators and the governor to provide funding for that.”
Fellow Stamford teacher Michelle Pusser said, “I really think it’s important for our legislators to hear directly from teachers in the classroom. I think that face-to-face contact makes the most significant impact.”
CEA member and State Rep. Ron Napoli, a Waterbury teacher, told educators, “Coming up here to advocate for teachers is really, really important. This is the most important field that there is. Thank you so much for being good advocates for teachers.”
Thompson Education Association President Louise Morrison said she took the day to come to Hartford because she wants to make sure lawmakers pay attention to teachers. “I feel it’s important that the legislators hear from the people in the trenches,” she said.
Morrison, a middle school teacher, said her priorities this legislative session include changing the kindergarten start age and improving air quality in schools. “I really see those younger kids struggling all through middle school, and I think that giving them an extra year to play and grow is really important,” she said. Many of Thompson’s school buildings are older and have antiquated ventilation systems, but even the newest building has air quality problems as it lacks air conditioning, Morrison said. “The temperatures in the classrooms are in the 90s in the spring and late summer—you can’t teach. The kids are sweating, and then in the winter it’s really cold, so there’s no happy medium.”
“One of the main reasons that I’m here today is because I’m very concerned about teacher recruitment,” said West Hartford special education teacher Ellen Eickenhorst. “Especially for students who are in high school and in college and have gotten through the COVID crisis, I think that a lot of them have seen how respect has been lost for the teaching profession and how hard teaching really is. And I think that has rightly dissuaded many from enrolling in teacher preparation programs. At the end of the day, that’s a crisis for the kids because we have hundreds of classrooms that still are not staffed here in Connecticut.”
Miles Cohen, the co-chair of the CEA-Retired Legislative Committee, said that retired members’ priorities this year include making sure teacher pensions are funded.
“It’s essential to ensure that our pension is always fully funded as well as our health care fund,” he said. “We’re also concerned about new teachers coming into the profession because new teachers support the pension program. If we’re losing teachers, that’s going to impact the pension program down the road. We need to have higher starting salaries for teachers to attract new people to the profession.”
State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, ranking member of the Education Committee, told teachers, “We have a surplus but it’s still difficult looking to make sure the house budget is balanced, and so I do keep the teachers at a high priority like I do for our students and I’ll continue to do my best to advocate as best I’m able to.”
“Today is about bringing the heat, and each and every one of you bring your own very important story,” said Dias. “Pick what you feel passionate about and share that passionate knowledge with your legislators. It means a great deal to have you all here today.”
You can still participate in CEA’s Day of Action. Share your photos of you and colleagues wearing #RedforEd with CEA at firstname.lastname@example.org, and post to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #fixthecrisis. You can also reach out to your legislators and flood their inboxes. Call or email your senator and representative and tell them how the teacher shortage is negatively impacting you and hurting your students. Click here to send an email. Look up your legislators’ phone numbers here, and give them a call.
Watch news coverage of the Day of Action from News 8 and NBC Connecticut.