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Idaho lawmakers work quickly to boost teacher health coverage

A teacher raising her hand in a classroom.
Darin Oswald
Idaho Statesman

Idaho lawmakers have signed off on another of Gov. Brad Little’s major promises made in his state of the state speech last month to boost health insurance benefits for public school employees.

Right now, state employees receive about $4,000 more per year in offsets to their health insurance coverage than school workers.

A bill passed by the Senate Thursday would give local districts more of a cash incentive to join the state’s insurance plan, which can be more affordable and include better benefits.

Sen. Steven Thayn (R-Emmett) said this proposal will actually boost a teacher’s take-home pay.

“We’ve increased teacher pay quite a few times over the last four or five years. However, most of that teacher pay has been sucked up in increasing health insurance costs,” Thayn said.

In addition to raising a worker’s effective salary, Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking (D-Boise), a former teacher herself, said this bill will also be a benefit to students.

“If we can keep our teachers healthy and in the classroom, that’s a good thing,” Ward-Engelking said.

Once signed into law, districts will have two years to decide whether to join the state’s health insurance plan.

Separate bills are still needed to pay for the program. Those estimates include $75 million to beef up the insurance plan’s reserve account, as well as $105 million in ongoing costs to the state.

To help offset that price tag, educators agreed to give up $850 bonuses awarded to those teaching advanced classes or occupying hard-to-fill positions. Those teacher leadership premiums would’ve cost $19.7 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

Gov. Brad Little thanked the Senate for passing this “GAME-CHANGING” legislation in a tweet. Little has five days to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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