House OKs plan to put teachers on state health insurance

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation allowing Idaho K-12 teachers to take home more of their pay by giving school districts the option to opt out of private health care providers and join the state’s self-funded health insurance plan cleared the House Monday and headed to the Senate.

The House voted 55 to 14 to approve legislation supporters said is needed to help the state hire and retain teachers and other school workers by cutting bonuses and lowering deductibles. Funders also said it could reduce reliance on school levies that some school districts use, which can increase property taxes.

“This is a chance for the state to stand up and put its money where its mouth is to really help teachers,” Republican Rep. Judy Boyle said during a House debate.

Lawmakers have called the bill a “game changer” for public education, as health insurance costs are eating away at teachers’ salaries in Idaho and causing many to consider leaving the profession.

The bill is not a budget bill, and it does not affect money. Instead, it creates a dedicated fund, called the Public Schools Health Insurance Participation Fund, which would contain the one-time amount needed for public schools to subscribe to the state’s group medical and dental insurance plan.

That one-time amount is estimated to be about $75.5 million, if all schools participate in the state jobs plan, said Republican Rep. Rod Furniss, an insurance agent involved in health, disability and benefits for over 30 years and one of Bill’s sponsors.

“It’s first come, first served for this money to buy on this account,” he said.

Republican Gov. Brad Little’s proposed budget includes $105 million in general funds for school districts to help cover employee health insurance costs. That would bring the $8,400 schools receive per employee to $12,500, the level the state pays for health insurance for its employees.

Money approved for the plan would have to first go through the Legislature’s budget-setting committee, then be approved by the House and Senate before going into the fund dedicated for use by schools. public.

It is possible that some school districts will stay with their insurers, if they are competitive, or switch to the state plan.

According to the legislation, any money contributed to the fund cannot be spent before July 1 or after June 30, 2024, giving school districts a two-year window to make a decision. Any money left in the dedicated fund when it expires would go to the public education stabilization fund or, if full, to the state’s general fund.

The National Education Association estimated that for the 2019-20 school year, the national average teacher salary was $65,000. Idaho ranked 39th with an average salary of just under $53,000 and 35th in average starting salary at $38,000.

A number of lawmakers who worked as teachers backed the bill, including Republican Rep. Gary Marshall, who said he felt lucky to work as a public educator years ago but had to leave. when he started a family.

“This bill will put more money into the take home pay of hundreds, thousands of teachers across this state,” he said. “It is time for us to do so. It is extremely important. I left public education because I couldn’t do it.

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