Congressional support for teacher strikes at odds with state leadership 

STRIKING TEACHERS IN Massachusetts have had strong support from some of the state’s heaviest political hitters. US Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have offered full-throated endorsements of the strikes, with Markey even joining Malden teachers on the picket line. Congresswoman Katherine Clark has also voiced support for the teacher actions. 

But as you move closer to the top officials with direct responsibility for Massachusetts public schools, solidarity with teacher strikes, which are against state law, is much harder to find. 

Gov. Maura Healey told WBZ’s Jon Keller that she was “not a fan” of the strikes – or of legislation filed last month that would legalize walk-outs by teachers. “I’ve come to this, Jon, as the proud daughter of educators,” Healey said. “We should be doing everything we can to support our educators.” But “when I see kids out of school because of a strike, my heart just breaks because kids have been through enough in terms of learning loss and the like,” she said. 

In a separate interview, Senate President Karen Spilka told Keller much the same. “I think we need to ensure that our children continue to stay in school,” she said, sidestepping a direct answer, but signaling her view by calling that “our first and foremost priority.” 

The comments followed remarks in December by state education commissioner Jeff Riley, who called legislation being pushed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association that would legalize teacher strikes “a bridge too far.” Riley called it “disconcerting” to see the proposal surface after kids lost so much classroom time due to the COVID shutdown of schools. 

Former state education secretary Paul Reville said it’s hard to ignore the pattern in the divide among elected officials on the teachers strike issue. “The farther away you are from the consequences of endorsing a policy, it’s easier to make that endorsement,” he said. 

“The easiest thing in the world for a member of Congress to do is take an untenable position about state legislation – something they never have to vote for,” said Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.

Last week, Markey spoke at a “town hall” at the US Capitol convened by Sen Bernie Sanders on “the teacher pay crisis in America.” He said he was proud to join the picket line with teachers in Massachusetts and said the result has been “raises in the salaries for teachers wherever those strikes occur.” 

Markey recalled that he worked as a paraprofessional in the Malden schools during his first year after graduating from Boston College. “They didn’t get paid enough then, and they don’t get paid enough now,” he said.   

There have been four teacher strikes in Massachusetts districts over the past year, and the low pay for paraprofessionals figured in several of them. 

“I think without the attention which the teachers drew to it, that desperately needed area of attention would not have received the support which it needs,” Markey said in an interview earlier this week following an event in Boston. 

State Rep. Mike Connolly of Cambridge, who has sponsored bills since 2017 that would legalize teacher strikes in the state, said it’s unfair that teachers in some districts go years without a contract. 

The new version of the bill he filed this year adds a provision that strikes would not be allowed until at least six months after a negotiation impasse between a teachers’ union and district. Connolly hopes that a six-month window will create pressure to reach an agreement. 

“Everyone wants to see children in school, and I certainly think everyone wants their teachers to have good, fair contracts,” he said. “The hope with this bill actually is that it will reduce the prevalence of teacher strikes.” 

Given the comments of state leaders, the odds don’t look good for the legislation. “It has no chance at all,” Koocher declared. 

Reville, who had his share of differences with teachers unions as education secretary, said the Mass. Teachers Association “has a legitimate point” in arguing that existing law “puts school committees in the driver’s seat” and lets them engage in protracted negotiations that go beyond the length of a contract. 

However, he opposes the talk of legalizing teacher strikes. “They put families in a terrible bind, because they want to be supportive of teachers, but they need children to be in school for the education it provides and coverage during the work day,” he said. Reville said he would favor some kind of “a middle course” that imposes arbitration to settle a contract dispute after a specified period of time. 



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