WORCESTER — In one of her first public appearances after she became the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Maura Healey rallied one of the largest labor unions in the state — the Massachusetts Teachers Association — in an education-focused visit to Worcester.
Healey, who promised she would be “the education governor” pushed her public education priorities Tuesday, where she visited with union leaders as well as vocational education leaders at Worcester Technical High School.
“I am a huge proponent of education and support for our educators because I know how foundational that is to the life and well-being and success of every child and person in this state,” she said at the union’s Central Regional Service Center.
“That is why I made the commitment to be the education governor and to do what needs doing,” the South End Democrat said, wearing a purple National Education Association pin and holding a red union t-shirt she was gifted. “And a lot needs doing.”
The message, that she will be a teachers union-friendly governor who will support and fund public education, was reminiscent of the message from former gubernatorial candidate and state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, a former public school teacher, who served as the chair of her chamber’s education committee for eight years. Chang-Díaz had a base of support from teachers and other advocates who cited her years-long effort to overhaul the state’s school funding formula as a reason for their loyalty.
Healey, whose mother is a middle school nurse and whose stepfather is a former high school history teacher, has a wide-ranging education campaign platform that makes promises to invest in behavioral health and other services in schools, like councilors and social workers, to update school buildings, retain teachers of color to better reflect student populations, reassess the role of standardized testing, and expand programs such as the Massachusetts Early College Initiative.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association, which has nearly 120,000 members, endorsed Healey on June 28, five days after Chang-Díaz announced her departure from the gubernatorial race.
Healey has no other opponent for the Sept. 6 primary. In the general election on Nov. 8, she’ll either face former Republican state lawmaker Geoff Diehl or Wrentham businessman Chris Doughty. Public polling has found her leading both by wide margins.
“[Healey’s] been meeting with educators throughout her campaign and before she even got into the race,” MTA president Merrie Najimy said at their Worcester office Tuesday. “She understands the connection between educators’ working conditions and students’ learning. It would be a tremendous benefit to every community to have an education governor in the State House.”
Governor Charlie Baker has, at times, clashed with the teacher’s union over charter school expansion, school funding, and the reopening of schools during the pandemic. Healey’s campaign stops — and her opposition to a failed 2016 initiative to expand the number of charter schools in the state — hinted that she might take a different path.
On Tuesday morning, the attorney general met privately with paraprofessionals and support staff, who expressed their concern about low pay. She said she understood how the “toll only worsened” for educators and students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Healey, who supported the Student Opportunity Act, legislation that nearly doubles the funding that the state’s poorest communities receive for each low-income student, said as governor, she’d continue to fully fund the infusion of funding into the state’s public schools to help mitigate low pay.
Melinda Martin, a single mother of a 10-year-old and member of the support staff at Worcester Public Schools, was one of a small group who met privately with Healey on Tuesday morning. She said she felt “heard” as she expressed how her $30,000 annual salary is far lower than what she could make working in retail.
Healey called the stories she heard Tuesday from Martin and others “disheartening.”
“We knew that these were challenging positions before COVID,” she said. “These are positions that require so much of individuals are not well-compensated . . . it is really disheartening to listen to the experiences of the educators I just met with.”
After her visit with the public schools teachers and staff, Healey met with education and business leaders at Worcester Technical High School down the street, where she toured the school’s colorful early education preschool classroom, saw the manufacturing shop where students learn to make detailed metal creations — including ceremonial keys to the City of Worcester — and went to the veterinary clinic. There, students worked alongside Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine students and veterinarians to remove the eye of a dead dog to practice the surgery.
The technical school’s new principal, Drew Weymouth, said he has been pleased with Baker’s support of vocational programs and said he believes Healey has similarly “strong” support and will continue advocating for state money to be allocated for the programs.
As the group snaked through the halls of the large campus, Worcester School Committee member Susan Mailman told Healey how high the demand is for the most popular programs, like the veterinary clinic.
“We need to expand it, governor-to-be!” she said.
James Vaznis of the Globe staff contributed to this report.