Spending the stimulus UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Spending the stimulus UPDATE

Posted By on Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 6:56 AM

Brummett has a blog note saying that Gov. Beebe is giving some thought to using federal stimulus money, if rules allow, to prepay a decade of teachers' health insurance costs.

Wow. That's a lot of money. Teachers would love it.

But, boy, it raises questions. Such as about the immediate stimulative effect beyond the increased spending power of teachers in the first year of the subsidy. Would you pre-pay the insurance companies for the rest? Now that would be a windfall. What would they do with it? Would they be obligated to provide full coverage in future at price specified today, or would they be allowed to raise the rates? Interesting. Complicated. Any plan that involves insurance companies requires very careful study. Public interest isn't at the top of their business model. Profit is.

UPDATE: Roby Brock talked with Gov. Beebe about this over the weekend. In that interview, Beebe said the White House wasn't too keen on the idea.

UPDATE II: Some thoughtful comments from someone who's long argued for better health coverage for teachers. (I note some seem to think they detect on my part a resistance to this idea. That's wrong. I just see structural problems with a 10-year-advance payment, which isn't going to happen anyway. I'm for universal health coverage for ALL.)

Reader writes:

I'm amazed there's not more support for confronting this problem. We have a constitutional duty to place competent teachers in our public school classrooms, and as we compete for teachers with other employment opportunities, it's insane to think we can ignore a health insurance benefit as a factor.

Consider the insurance costs for public school employees in this chart. A single employee pays $180 per month or 47% of the premium cost. A married employee pays $770 per month or 74% of premium cost. Make your own comparisons, but her state pays 75% for a single state employee.  47%...is that in any way defensible in your mind? Can you imagine the impact that has on teacher recruitment?

You also have to consider the "School District Contribution" shown on the same chart. This is the minimum amount the state requires school districts to pay, this mandate has not been increased since 1995, and the vast majority of districts pay only this minimum. My point is that our sorry teacher health insurance is mostly due to legislative neglect.   So, if now the Feds reject the idea of using stimulus money to address this problem, do you imagine we can blame the Feds and ignore the state's neglect?

Max, where would you prioritize a competitive health insurance benefit to teachers in the grand scheme of things? Higher or lower than tax cuts, e.g., sales tax on food? How about the economic development quick response kitty? Manufacturer's sales tax on energy?

Agree or disagree, but don't let elected folks crow about their commitment to education, and then continue to make excuses and neglect this problem. And please challenge stupid excuses like, "teachers can be insured through their husband's plans" or "teachers say they'd rather have salary".

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