Home Minnesota Educator ESPs tout benefits of unemployment insurance; GOP legislators are skeptical

ESPs tout benefits of unemployment insurance; GOP legislators are skeptical

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Minnesota’s new law giving education support professionals access to unemployment benefits in the summer provided an economic safety net that kept more of them in the profession this school year.

ESP members and parents testified about the benefits of the new program at a March 13 legislative hearing, where state officials released data showing it also cost a lot less than districts said it would.

Just under 18,000 ESPs received UI benefits last summer at a cost of about $40 million, according to figures from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. School districts were almost fully reimbursed for those costs by the state.

The 2023 Legislature set aside $135 million to fund the UI program through June 2027, and there are talks at the Capitol about extending that funding stream into future years, so districts aren’t footing the bill.

Unfortunately, leaders in many districts have used the potential cost of programs like UI and paid leave as an excuse for not settling fair contracts with teacher and ESP bargaining units.

For ESPs like Zumbrota-Mazeppa paraprofessional Courtney Hammes, the extra bit of money she received from UI this past summer was a game changer.

“Instead of working three jobs this summer, I was able to work just one,” she said in her testimony. “The unemployment was such a huge help, it was amazing. This is also the first time ever I felt recharged after summer and not completely exhausted. In my district this year there wasn’t a turnover of staff. Everyone returned. In 12 years, that has never happened.”

Michelle Lancaster, a paraprofessional at Buffalo High School, had time this summer to help her daughter and son-in-law, who has an autoimmune disorder and is unable to work.

“They have two little boys, so I was able to help them out watching kids and helping with household chores to make life a little easier for my daughter,” she said. “Without the unemployment insurance, I would not have been able to be as available for them.”

Several Republican legislators spoke in opposition of the UI program during the March 13 hearing, calling the testimony by ESPs and parents a “premature victory lap.” They say the money would be better spent on other efforts.

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