I will admit, when I first heard that the state of Idaho wanted to put Idaho educators on the state insurance plan I rejoiced. The current plan that my school uses would have me pay over $900 a month to add my wife and daughter, a price I simply cannot afford. The state plan would let me put my wife and daughter on a plan, including vision and dental, for just over $300 a month, a price I can more easily manage. So, I can see why Superintendent Sherri Ybarra and State Board President Kurt Liebich would hale this as a great win for educators in their recent commentaries on Idaho EdNews.
Despite the positive vibes, however, there is a problem with the bill that passed regarding funding. Simply put, Idaho pays the initial buy-in for the insurance for eligible employees based on student enrollment, not based on the amount of eligible teachers in the school. What this means is the state of Idaho dictates how many full-time employees the school can have based on the number of students enrolled. This does not seem to account for any additional needs of the school such as one-on-one paraprofessionals that are sometimes required by law. So, if the school has more eligible employees than the state says is necessary, then the school must pay the difference.
Here is what this looks like in my school of Hagerman. The state of Idaho says that the Hagerman Joint School District needs 24 full-time employees to deliver a high-quality educational experience for our students. All well and good except that Hagerman employs 37 eligible employees, which creates a shortfall of $965 that the district must front. To be fair, this is a one-time buy-in, and the district is obligated to stay with the state insurance plan for five years. This is not too bad, so Hagerman may be able to switch to the state plan. This is not the case for many other districts in Idaho where the shortfall can be into the hundreds of thousands, a price many schools simply do not have the funds to pay.
After this, the state allocates a certain fund for annual premiums, again this is based on enrollment, not eligible staff hired by the school. For now, Hagerman is in the green with the premiums because the revenue allocated by the state per eligible employee is higher than the state cost, but that could easily change each year. Many other schools will not be so fortunate. This issue is compounded by the fact that Gov. Brad Little vetoed HB723 which funded schools based on enrollment rather than attendance. Even though he said he is willing to look at the data in the upcoming year and would be willing to reinstate attendance funding, I have little faith (no pun intended) that this will amount to anything more than fluffy words to ease the apprehensions of voters. Given that this is an election year, I suspect that this is the true motivation behind Superintendent Ybarra’s and President Liebich’s optimism.
If the current legislative authorities genuinely want to support Idaho schools, they should take a closer look at the ways in which they fund education and consider a better plan.