Facing Teacher Shortages, Unions Pitch Higher Benefits and Pay

Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias speaks in support of higher benefits and pay in response to teacher shortages (CT Examiner)


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Asked about the teacher shortage in the state, Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias’ response is succinct. 

“It’s still bad.” 

Representatives from the state’s two major teachers unions and the state legislators gathered on Tuesday to champion higher salaries, greater benefits and fewer administrative burdens for workers in the classrooms. Union representatives argued that increasing salaries and benefits could bring more people into the teaching profession and help alleviate the shortage. 

According to Dias, the state Department of Education had announced at the start of this school year a total of 1200 open positions in schools, the majority of which were concentrated in the state’s poorest districts. Dias said that since the pandemic, she’s seen teachers leaving their districts in the middle of the year, something she said never used to happen. 

State Rep. Jeffrey Currey, D-East Hartford, the new chair of the Education Committee, said that the committee’s goal this year was to speed up the implementation of a new formula that would increase funding for many of the school districts across the state. Currey said it was important to do this as the date approached when the districts’ federal coronavirus relief funds would run out. 

“Hitting that [fiscal] cliff is going to be a slap in the face and a wake up. Bit of reality for a number of those districts,” said Currey. 

Currey said that the goal was to fully fund all the districts seeing an increase in their funding by the year 2025. He said this would cost about $275 million. The 88 districts scheduled for a reduction in funding would have their funding reduced at the original rate. 

Currey said that increasing funds to districts could also help with minority teacher recruitment. 

“We have districts that are underfunded to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. And so you have teachers that are stressed to the max. And so in those communities, specifically those communities of color … they’re seeing their teachers stressed out to the max with everything that they’re asked to do,” said Currey. “If we can get the additional resources to alleviate some of their pressure, hopefully we’ll see additional folks want to get into that profession.”

Dias said that although teachers, like actuaries, are required to have a master’s degree and go through continued professional education, teacher’s salaries are not commensurate with those of actuaries and other professionals with similar educational requirements. 

“Physical therapists, civil engineers, these are the people that we deserve to be compared to because that’s the level of work that we are expected to do. I might even argue in some cases, work far beyond those expectations,” said Dias. 

Mary Yordon, divisional vice president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, referred to the “teacher penalty” or a gap of about 20 percent between salaries for teachers and salaries for other professionals who are college-educated and non-certified. 

Dias said the union was working with legislators to figure out how to provide cities and towns with additional funds, and then create incentives for towns to put that funding toward teacher salaries. Don Williams, the executive director of the CEA, said a potential model could be the 1986 Education Enhancement Act, which Dias said turned around the state’s teacher shortage within about three years. 

Currey said the state had issued over 1,000 certifications to teachers from other states through reciprocity agreements. But he said another concern was that the State Department of Education itself is understaffed, with only 104 of 276 positions filled. 

Dias said another priority of theirs was the teacher’s retirement fund. She said she wanted teachers to have access to compensation for their work during the pandemic, possibly through adding on a percentage credit to teacher’s pensions for the year they worked during the pandemic. 

“Teachers have not been acknowledged in the hero’s pay, or any sort of pandemic acknowledgement. And that has not been missed by a single educator. They’ve been specifically carved out of opportunities,” she said. 

Dias said she understood this could be a big ask — the state has already underfunded its pension liabilities. But she said it was something that could be added in overtime rather than all at once. 

Currey said the Education Committee was in ongoing conversations with members of the state budget committee about the teacher’s retirement fund. 

Long-term, Dias said, she’d like to look at reducing the number of years that a teacher has to work in order to access that fund. 

McCarty told CT Examiner that she believed they needed to continue their current funding the teacher’s pension fund, but that she believed it would take a number of years for additional changes to be made. 

State Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, the Speaker of the House, said that the state also needed to think about how it could help cities and towns fund special education, one of the highest costs to local districts.

“[It] is morally bankrupt, the way we fund special education in the state of Connecticut. It’s every town’s lot in life, whatever kids they get. The state should pick that up,” said Ritter. 

A survey of 800 voters that CEA commissioned found that three in four voters are in favor of the state providing more funding to municipalities to pay teachers, and that 71 percent believe teachers should receive “hero pay” for their work during the pandemic. 

Other requests from the teachers’ unions include decreased class sizes, increasing prep time for teachers and creating a more diverse workforce, as well as removing barriers to teacher certification. 

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.