By Jean Conley
A long with legislation addressing the Fund Our Future campaign, the MTA’s legislative priorities for the 2019-2020 session include
proposals that focus on a wide range of issues.
They call for ending the destructive impact of
high-stakes testing, addressing fairness issues for
adjunct faculty members, and helping to provide
educators with a fair and dignified retirement. In
response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision
last summer, the MTA is also backing legislation
protecting the rights of workers and labor unions.
In the MTA’s legislative package are measures to:
Address high-stakes testing. A comprehensive
bill would end the high-stakes nature of statewide
standardized assessment — including graduation
requirements, the use of test scores in educator
evaluations, and school and district leveling —
and establish pilot programs that encourage up to
25 percent of districts to develop and implement
alternative local assessment models in consultation
with educators and parents. The legislation also
directs the state auditor to review contracts involving
the Department of Elementary and Secondary
Education, Measured Progress and Pearson, the key
organizations involved in student assessment.
Promote health and safety in schools. This
legislation would mandate at least 20 minutes of
unstructured free-play recess per school day for
students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Another
bill would seek to ensure that public school facilities
are kept at safe and comfortable temperatures
throughout the year.
Protect retired educators. The legislation would
immediately increase the cost-of-living base from
$13,000 to $18,000 and, over time, raise the base
to align with Social Security’s maximum allowable
Legislative priorities address range of issues
benefit for an individual worker. That figure was
$33,456 in 2018. The bill would freeze municipal
retiree health insurance premium contribution rates
at the rate paid on the day of retirement and cap out-of-pocket expenses for retirees who are not eligible
for Medicare. The legislation would also provide
a solution to a RetirementPlus enrollment issue
impacting certain members of the Massachusetts
Teachers’ Retirement System.
Address workplace fairness on college
campuses. This omnibus bill would ensure
workplace fairness for adjunct faculty members
by providing access to health insurance and state
equivalent full-time faculty,
of 7. 5 percent of
salary to the
account for those
who work less
than half time,
and giving current adjunct faculty members notice
and priority consideration for new or vacant full-time
positions. The legislation also would streamline
the process through which public higher education
collective bargaining agreements are validated and
funded by having completed contracts go directly to
the Legislature for approval, and it would eliminate
the 60-day waiting period for newly hired employees
to begin receiving health insurance coverage through
the Group Insurance Commission.
Ensure debt-free public higher education.
This bill would direct the Board of Higher Education
to create a grant program to pay the equivalent of
tuition and mandatory fees for all eligible students at
any Massachusetts public college or university — or
costs for a certificate, vocational or training program
at a public institution — for the equivalent of four
years of college.
Protect public employees. The legislation
would establish a commission on the GIC to achieve
transparency in contracts involving health care costs
and pharmaceutical pricing and call for consideration
of “reference-based pricing” as a means of making
medical costs reasonable and uniform, as well as for
examining the value and viability of a public-option
health insurance plan that would be available to
public and non-public employees in Massachusetts.
The legislation also would make applicable to all
municipal employees the Commonwealth’s recent
minimum wage hike to $15 an hour and access to
paid family and medical leave.
Promote labor rights. Legislation written
in coordination with the AFL-CIO Public-Sector
Task Force includes bills that would provide
public employees with the right to strike, add
additional labor seats to the GIC and ensure greater
transparency in GIC decision-making, and protect
the rights of workers and unions.
Revive the Fair Share Amendment. Legislation
backed by Raise Up Massachusetts, of which the MTA
is a member, would revive the Fair Share Amendment.
This legislation would amend the Massachusetts
Constitution, creating an additional tax of four
percentage points on annual income over $1 million.
A legislative constitutional amendment requires two
consecutive constitutional convention votes by a
majority of the Legislature. If those approvals occur,
the measure would be placed on the ballot in 2022.
Hundreds of educators took a few moments
to express solidarity with United Teachers
Los Angeles members on Jan. 12, when
the MTA held an All Presidents’ Meeting
and the Union Skills Winter Conference in
Framingham. Both the meeting and the
conference focused significantly on the
Fund Our Future campaign, which seeks
adequate funding for Massachusetts public
schools, colleges and universities. The
conference also offered workshops on the
core activities of local unions, including
organizing, negotiating, standing up for
employee rights and taking political action.
Two days later, UTLA members began their
strike, receiving nationwide support. A
settlement was reached nine days after the
strike began, and UTLA members are now
back in their classrooms.
Photo by Carlos Avila