Legislative victory for members with Peace Corps service

Intensive MTA lobbying and persistent efforts by state Sen. David Magnani (D-Framingham) succeeded when a Magnani amendment to a military service bill was signed into law as Chapter 468 of the Acts of 2002 by Acting Gov. Jane Swift on Jan. 1, 2003, just prior to her leaving office. The amendment enables K-12 public school teachers to purchase up to three years of Peace Corps service as creditable service toward retirement.

"Passage of this kind of bill during the current precarious fiscal climate could be considered a minor miracle," said MTA President Catherine A. Boudreau. "Peace Corps service," she continued, "is valued public service and particularly valuable for public school students whose classes are enriched and who are the beneficiaries of their teachers' experience."

The measure, initially filed as a bill four years ago, had its route to passage opened when Magnani added it as an amendment to a military service bill on Nov. 25. That is when accelerated lobbying efforts began to convince the House of Representatives to agree to the Senate amendment. 

Legislative obstacles were overcome when Rep. Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), House Public Service Committee chair, was able to clear the way for House passage. Also assisting in the House effort were Rep. John Rogers (D-Norwood), House Ways and Means chair, and Rep. Anne Paulsen (D-Belmont). In the Senate, key support was rendered by Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Lobbyist Jack Flannagan of MTA's Division of Governmental Services attributed success to the work of the aforementioned legislators, particularly Magnani and Dempsey.

"Sen. Magnani's leadership in the Senate and his contacts with the Swift administration and Rep. Dempsey's floor leadership in the House were key, as was MTA's emphasis that passage would serve as an important tool in the recruitment and retention of teachers with Peace Corps experience," Flannagan said.

"The Department of Education and local school districts now can more effectively recruit new teachers nationally through the Peace Corps itself, since only ten other states offer this incentive to those thinking about teaching as a career."

MTA Director of Governmental Services Joanne Blum stated that "deserved credit should be given to Acting Gov. Swift, since the bill did not arrive on her desk until Dec. 31, giving her just one day to either sign this bill into law or let it expire."

"That she and her staff recognized the import of this bill before time ran out is something that will be appreciated by the teachers and students who will benefit from the bill's passage," Blum added. 

The new law stipulates that the contribution the teacher must make to purchase the credit must match "an amount equal to the contributions such member in service would have otherwise paid into the retirement system for the period of volunteer service based upon the annual salary the member received in the first year of membership service after that volunteer service."

The Massachusetts Teachers Retirement Board will now have to review the legislation, which goes into effect on April 1. The MTRB, however, needs time to develop the applicable regulations and guidelines. Details for purchasing this creditable service will be posted on its Web site when ready. The MTRB Web address is www.state.ma.us/mtrb.

Unfinished business

Several categories of MTA's membership have asked MTA to file creditable service bills on their behalf. Those requests have been incorporated into past MTA legislative packages and have been refiled for consideration by the 2003-2004 Legislature.

Members who would benefit should those bills become law include vocational education teachers, higher education faculty and adjunct faculty, school nurses and teachers with VISTA/Americorps/Teacher Corps service, as well as those who have taught in the public schools of Puerto Rico and on Indian reservations.

Should the state's fiscal crisis ease, the chances for these bills to advance will increase. Bill numbers will not be available until early February, and committee hearings will be scheduled between mid-February and the end of April. More specific information will be published once it is known.