Bill would cover tuition for paraprofessionals on their way to teaching

Lawmakers to vote on paraprofessional tuition bill
Updated: Mar. 13, 2023 at 5:55 PM EDT
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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Paraprofessionals working towards becoming a teacher could soon get some big financial help.

There’s a new bill on the table that would make their education free. It’s a bill aimed at ending the state’s teacher shortage.

Paraprofessionals are sometimes mislabeled as teacher’s aids, but the president of the Hartford Federation of Para Educators said she knows they’re more than that.

“We help with the learning, but we helped shape the students,” said Shellye Davis, president, Hartford Federation of Para Educators.

Davis said she has worked as para for more than 30 years.

She has seen her peers step into the roles of teachers without the title, pay and full education.

She said some paras want to climb the ladder.

“We have people right here that have been in the classroom, that have the teaching skills, that have the knowledge, that know what it’s like to be a teacher,” Davis said.

She teamed up with Democratic state Rep. Maryam Khan to design a bill that would completely waive tuition for paraeducators who want a teaching degree.

“They can’t afford the four years, you just can’t,” Davis explained. “The average [tuition] is $24,000. Think about that.”

If the $24,000 was brought down to nothing, Davis said paras across the state could get ahead, financially and emotionally.

“My heart is in special education,” said Yokasty Thomas, a Central Connecticut State University student. “That’s what I study and want to go for. Being bilingual with special education, that’s where my heart is.”

Thomas said she is a teacher by day and a CCSU student by night.

She’s also a full-time mom.

“My son’s like ‘you can do it mom, you can do it,’” she said.

Thomas works for Hartford Public Schools.

The district is paying for half of her teaching courses. She said the other 50 percent is on her.

“I do pay out of pocket with my credit card,” Thomas said. “It’s a little struggle.”

Even as she stretches her wallet, she said she’s focused on a bigger picture.

“I’m not just thinking of the impact it’d make in my life, but in the life of the kids I’m working with,” Thomas said.

She called on lawmakers, and Davis, to help paras so they don’t have to decide between paying their bills or going to school.

“That push could be done by a lawmaker for a better community, and to have a better education for our kids, and they deserve it,” Thomas said.

Davis said lawmakers plan to make decision on the bill on Tuesday.