As the 2023-2024 school year kicks off, CSEA paras have a lot to celebrate! Years of hard work and solidarity have led to some monumental wins for paraeducators, students and our school communities as a whole.
Progress on Healthcare Costs
On September 5th, Cynthia Ross-Zweig, Paraeducator Council President, had the honor to represent CSEA at a press conference with our top elected officials - Governor Lamont, Senator Blumenthal, Comptroller Scanlon, Speaker Ritter, and many more. She took this opportunity to speak to these elected officials and the press about the struggles paraeducators have paying for their health insurance. CSEA members worked tirelessly throughout the last several sessions to highlight these rising healthcare costs and in the 2023 Legislative Session their work helped lead to the creation of a $5 million Paraeducator Healthcare Subsidy Program which will pay 74% of the deductible for paraeducators with a Health Savings Account in a High Deductible Health Plan. This will impact over 4,000 paras across Connecticut.
As Comptroller Scanlon describes, this program will make a huge difference for those paras, “If a paraeducator has a $2,000 deductible, and they get a $1,000 contribution from their board of education, that means that their responsibility is $1,000. That’s a lot of money for somebody making what a paraeducator unfortunately makes in many of these school districts. [The Paraeducator Healthcare Subsidy Program] would be paying a stipend of $740 to cover the cost of those costs.” This leaves the para with a deductible of $260, instead of $2,000.
In addition to the subsidy program and again thanks to the work of CSEA union members, the General Assembly and Governor Lamont created a paraeducator health care working group to develop legislative and policy recommendations to ensure that all paraeducators have access to high quality, affordable health insurance. The working group includes union representation as well as staff from the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, the Office of Health Strategy, and the Comptroller's office. The working group has already started meeting and has until July 1, 2024 to present their recommendations.
This new program is a huge start, but there is much more work to be done. The appropriation for this healthcare stipend was only made for one year and the amount is not nearly enough to address all of the many issues paras have with accessing quality, affordable healthcare insurance.
Progress on Air Quality
For the past several legislative sessions of the Connecticut General Assembly, CSEA members who work in Connecticut’s public schools have been advocating for legislation and funding to ensure safe air quality in our classrooms. Thanks to the work of CSEA members and our partners in the broader school air quality coalition, Connecticut is starting to implement a program to improve, create, and maintain high air quality and temperature standards in our schools.
With everything that has happened over the course of the deadly, global COVID-19 pandemic, we know firsthand the importance of air quality. And, as the school year is just getting started, we have already seen multiple districts cancel classes or move to half days because of the excessive heat coupled with substandard heating, ventilation, or air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
In 2022, Governor Lamont signed legislation that CSEA members lobbied for that established a new grant program to encourage public school districts to install, replace, or upgrade, their HVAC systems. The program is designed to assess school district HVAC needs and to fund renovations that are needed to support healthy learning environments in our schools. The Department of Administrative Services (DAS), which is administering the grant program, has opened the application for the FY24 HVAC Indoor Air Quality Grant Program for Public Schools.
Over the coming weeks, DAS will be rolling out webinars and other communications to encourage districts to apply and to answer questions they may have.
Coming Up Ahead
As we forge our way ahead, we are preparing for the upcoming fights to improve para wages, benefits and working conditions so that we can better support our students. The 2023 Municipal Elections are our first opportunity to ensure that our local elected officials are not only pro-union, but pro-para! From city council and selectpersons to Board of Education members - local officials have a direct impact on our livelihood. Be sure to check out the October CSEA News for our full list of endorsed candidates.
The 2024 Legislative Session is also just around the corner. We will need paras to testify at public hearings, send emails to their electeds, sign petitions, attend rallies and more! We can only be successful if we stand together and raise our collective voices!