Attacking teachers won’t make our schools better

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By Martha Allen

Instead of renewing calls to work with the state’s educators to make our schools even better for our children, the Vermont School Boards Association over the weekend chose to attack the men and women in Vermont’s classrooms.

After many, many years of state level collaboration between teachers and school boards, their statewide association now seems to think that their fellow Vermonters who teach our children have it too good. Rather than acknowledging decades of negotiation and decision-making between school boards and teachers on health insurance, the statewide association chose to ignore the overwhelming spirit of collaboration that has guided thousands of collective bargaining agreements.

Gone is the embrace of cooperation and local decision-making.

Gone is the acknowledgment that, because of constant contact with children who come to school in all states of good and bad health, school employees need (and pay for) good health insurance coverage. (The same plan covering teachers also covers support professionals, administrators and even superintendents.)

And gone – well, actually, the boards’ association never even started to help advance the reform of the health care system – is any semblance of understanding that all Vermonters should have good coverage.

Instead, the boards’ statewide association has resorted to public statements (based on a “study” from a Montpelier lobbying firm and paid for with thousands of taxpayer dollars) of the obvious: if schools spend less on health insurance for employees, it would cost less. If we stick it to the women and men teaching Vermont’s children, school districts will spend less. Newsflash: that is no newsflash.

It is a simple fact that the boards’ association has not joined Vermont-NEA’s longstanding and strong support for a publicly financed, universally available health insurance system. A revamped health care system that provides good health care access at a reasonable cost spread across all 635,000 Vermonters is good for us all.

So, rather than respond to the obvious, we will continue to advocate for the general well-being of our state, its children, and all working men and women, including the professionals who have dedicated their careers to providing all of our children a great public education. Instead of finding ways to punish educators – and advocate for diminishing health coverage for all of us – we invite the boards’ association to join us in what is right for all Vermonters.

A comprehensive single payer health system will ensure continued good access to care for teachers, and it will result in reduced costs to their employers. It will extend good health care to all Vermonters.

The boards’ association has sat on the sidelines of the health reform debate for years. It’s a shame that it chooses now to half-heartedly embrace it by trashing the very health insurance plan its members developed along with us that has, through its more than two-decade history, saved taxpayers millions of dollars a year. School boards might want to consider the wisdom of their association’s continued public statements of the obvious or whether they might be better served by their association’s useful participation in advocating with us for meaningful health care reform.

That, not heated rhetoric meant to demonize teachers, is what would help our children and all of Vermont’s taxpayers.

Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, is president of Vermont-NEA.