A proposal to create a minimum wage for teachers received support from hundreds of educators who spoke or submitted testimony at a public hearing on Wednesday.
One of the bills would, among other things, create a minimum salary for teachers, a $500 income tax credit and a pension enhancement for retiring teachers who worked during COVID. A second bill, one that includes language from the paraeducators’ union and the teachers’ union, would establish a minimum salary level for both teachers and paraeducators.
Kate Dias, President of the Connecticut Education Association, said during a press conference that the teachers favored a minimum salary of 3.25 times the Federal Poverty Level for a family of two — an amount that this year equates to about $64,000. The other bill recommends a lower minimum salary, around $54,400.
“At the end of the day, reconciling this to get where we want to go is the top priority,” Dias said. “I’m confident that through the legislative process, we’ll … get one of the packages across the line with numbers that put us in a good space with our teachers.”
According to data collected by the association, teachers with a bachelor’s degree would currently have to wait until their sixth or seventh year of teaching in most districts to reach that level of pay.
In Hartford, an entry-level salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is about $47,500. In Stonington, an entry-level salary is $42,500, and in Greenwich, it’s about $56,100. While teacher pay levels vary across districts, no district currently offers a starting salary of $64,000.
Some teachers said they made less than their peers or siblings who worked in other careers, like finance or engineering, and talked about having to buy supplies for their classrooms without being fully reimbursed.
“As a teacher with 8 years of experience and 3 of those being throughout the pandemic, I still don’t make the same amount of money as my brother, who doesn’t even have a masters like I was required to get by the state,” Laura Bittner, a teacher in Somers, said in her testimony. Bittner said that her brother has worked as an engineer for six years.
“I have more education and experience, yet get paid almost half of what he does,” she added.
Sheena Graham, a retired teacher who taught performing arts for nearly 40 years in Bridgeport and was the Connecticut Teacher of the Year in 2019, said at the press conference that working in a district that was “underfunded” meant she had to make certain sacrifices.
“It meant having to work two to four jobs my entire career. Sometimes, it meant leaving the school with lights and heat to go home to darkness and cold. It’s getting harder to keep educators in the neediest districts — crossing city lines meant a 10 to 25,000 dollar pay raise,” said Graham.
The proposal written by the paraeducators union would also establish a minimum salary for paraeducators at 1.75 times the Federal Poverty Level for a family of two — about $34,500.
Several paraeducators who submitted testimony said that they make either minimum wage — $15 an hour — or just above it. It’s a salary they say is not enough to live on.
“I made more money as a teenager babysitting in the 1980s,” said Victoria Ceylan, who works as a paraeducator in Danbury and makes under $16 an hour. She said that many paraeducators work two to three jobs, and also have special needs children.
Ceylan’s son AJ, who has cerebral palsy, said the paraeducators he had during his time in Danbury made it possible for him to get through school. He is now at the University of Connecticut.
Cindy Giametti, a paraeducator in East Haven, said she believed the low pay was one of the reasons that the districts were having trouble hiring. She said in her own district is short 20 paraeducators, which means they can’t comply with the education plans that are required by law for the district’s special education students.
To pay for the increased salaries, the paraeducators’ bill would set aside $600 million in 2024 for a grant to be divided among school districts in the same way that the state calculates its educational cost sharing formula. For 2025, the bill recommends putting aside 20 percent of the discretionary surplus from the state’s General Fund.
That funding is not included in the governor’s budget, and it is not clear whether the state grant would fully cover the cost of the mandated increase to the teachers’ salaries.
Dias said that the grant is meant to allow school districts to rapidly increase the teachers’ salary rates without having negative consequences on the district budget.
“We recognize that Boards of Ed don’t necessarily have these resources to do this in the here and now,” said Dias. “Our salaries are really not where they need to be. However, that requires an infusion of resources … and [doing] that through some set-aside funds is probably the best way that doesn’t really hold our budget back in the years to come.”
Executive Director of the Connecticut Education Association Don Williams said at the press conference that the state is in a highly unusual position — it has on hand the funding that it can use to address the challenges that teachers are facing.
“Usually it doesn’t work that way. Got a big crisis, [and] it’s usually a time of economic crisis as well, and people say there is no money. That’s not the case this year,” said Williams.
The bill proposed by the teachers union would also raise the minimum age of incoming kindergarteners to 5 years old, eliminate a state-required performance assessment for teacher candidates and create a “Bill of Rights” allowing teachers freedom to teach materials of their choice and use “emblems, flags, symbols and terminology” in the classroom if the teacher believes they have instructional value or are “related to the social-emotional well-being of students.”