REGIONAL- Minnesota is now the first state in the country to offer unemployment benefits to hourly school workers who are typically laid off at the end of the regular school year. School bus drivers, …
REGIONAL- Minnesota is now the first state in the country to offer unemployment benefits to hourly school workers who are typically laid off at the end of the regular school year.
School bus drivers, paraprofessionals, nutrition staff, and other education support staff who have traditionally been unpaid during the summer months have long lobbied for the change, and DFL legislators responded to their pleas this year by including the requirement in the education bill recently signed by Gov. Tim Walz.
“We are very happy to now have unemployment insurance for hourly school workers,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO president Bernie Burnham at a Tuesday press conference at the University of Minnesota. “Minnesota is the first state to allow school workers to access unemployment insurance from pre-K through higher ed. This law is now in effect and workers can start to apply.”
Burnham was joined by state legislators and hourly school employees for the news conference.
“We are a profession of mostly women and mostly BIPOC folks, it took us until 2023 to get the same financial safety net that construction workers and other seasonal workers have had for decades,” said Catina Taylor, an education support paraprofessional from Minneapolis. “That old decision to exclude us led to the current shortages of ESPs (educational support professionals) in school districts all over the state.”
“For the first time, I have the same basic economic security as my boys who work construction,” said Cat Briggs, a school bus driver.
State Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, one of the bill’s authors, noted that the push for such legislation has been going on for years.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to jump on to an effort that has been going on for a long time by these workers, by their labor unions and their representatives in labor to push for this basic correction and fairness in our system.”
“We are ending an 80-year exclusion of really skilled workers from our unemployment system, the folks who feed and drive and care for and support our students on campuses and in schools,” said bill co-author Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis.
The measure survived concerted opposition from representatives of school administrator and school board organizations who fought against the measure, arguing that the cost of bringing an estimated 60,000 hourly school workers into the unemployment insurance system would be devastating on their local budgets, as well as make it more difficult to find part-time workers to cover their summer programming. Without being given the ability to levy taxes to fund the initiative, administrators said the money to cover the additional expense would have to come from district general funds.
Greenman said she did not expect all hourly school employees to apply for the benefit, as many would continue to seek part-time employment during the summer.
The education bill provides $135 million to cover the 2024-25 biennium, but did not include any additional allocations. The Department of Employment and Economic Development will estimate the number of workers who will file claims, and if demand exceeds expectations the benefits would be reduced on a pro rata basis. If claims fall short of expectations, the unexpended money would be returned to the state’s general fund.
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