LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas Public School Employee insurance plan may be changed soon to try and handle a $70M deficit but some teachers aren’t happy with the proposed changes.
Hosea Born is a teacher in the Hope School District and he said it feels like the state is looking for the straw to break the camel’s back.
“We’re talking about anywhere from 15 to 20% increase that is $70 a month for individuals,” Born said.
He also said it could be hard to recruit and retain teachers in some districts because many of the raises that have been approved by the Legislature will be going to pay for potential increases.
“It’s hard to step back and say like why am I here and it goes back to we’re here for the kids but at some point, we’re going to see the teacher crisis continue,” Born said.
Jake Bleed is the Director of Employee Benefits and he said that part of the problem with the plan is the expenses and costs are growing more rapidly.
The Arkansas Educators Association advocates the state use part of the $980 million surplus to help pay for bridging the gap to next year.
Hosea said that it’s less than 10% of the surplus and it should go to funding the needs of the state.
Bleed doesn’t believe using the surplus money will fix the problem.
“In the short term sure that surplus could be used to help us get from one year to the next but that’s really a short-term fix,” Bleed explained.
He said the Department of Finance and the Division of Employee Benefits are looking at all options, which does include using some of the surplus.
Bleed hopes there can be a long-term fix brought to the Arkansas Legislative Council soon.
“How do we structure it so that from a management standpoint we’re doing everything we can to control costs but also so that we have the revenue in place when we know those costs are going to go up we can provide sufficient funding to meet the needs?” Bleed said.
The Arkansas Retired Teachers Association also uses this health plan. The 12,000 member association is also looking at proposed increases, albeit more uniform.
For retirees under the age of 65, the proposal looks to increase rates by 15% across the board, for those over 65 it proposes a 20% rate increase.
The ALC will take up a request of $35 million to help fund the plan shortfall on Friday. The State Board of Finance will meet on Tuesday to discuss and recommend a possible plan structure for the next school year.