Legislators back leaving Arkansas schools’ premiums alone

Jul 21, 2021


Health insurance costs’ uptick OK’d; state plan’s premiums to rise 5%

Jun 19, 2021


COVERAGE: Educators Call on Lawmakers to Protect Health Insurance Plan

Jun 18, 2021

On Thursday, June 17th, current and retired educators joined a state lawmaker in calling on the Arkansas Legislative Council to reject massive health insurance rate hikes on public school employees. Please see the coverage below. 

From the Arkansas Democrat Gazette: The Arkansas Education Association’s executive director on Thursday called on lawmakers to tap $70 million of the state’s general revenue surplus to shore up the public school health insurance plan so as not to increase the costs to employees and retirees next year. Read the full story HERE.

 

From KATV: “The current proposal to cost more, cover less and will place the expensive burden on educators and make the plan worse,” said Arkansas Education Association Executive Director, Tracey-Ann Nelson.

Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, a former educator, is calling on her colleagues to look at the state’s $1 billion dollar surplus and allocate all $70 million to cover the shortfall.

“When we convene in September or whenever it is, we ought to be thinking about things like this,” she said. “Then, if there if money left over, let’s talk about a tax break.”

(Hope Teacher Hosea) Born agrees with Elliott’s statements. “So I’m asking Arkansas legislators not just to invest in educators but to invest in the future. We have to do something. We have to show our people that we care, and this is the least that we can do right now,” he says. Watch more HERE.

 

From 5 News: Tamara Long is a paraprofessional at Huntsville Middle School and says the fact the state pays less and less every year hurts. She says they were at work every day during the pandemic.  

“Everyone stepped up to work, and some of us against doctors’ orders, that would be me, and I know there is other staff that did that as well. So we stepped up, we worked, we did it for the kids, and it would just be nice if the state would show us a little bit of appreciation for that,” she said. Watch more HERE.

 

From KARK: 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.

State Board of Finance discuss Public School Employee Insurance plan
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. Watch more HERE.

From the Arkansas Times: “While we don’t yet know what the board members will recommend, they are seeking an additional $35 million from the General Assembly, which falls well short of the needed $70 million. This will likely result in shifting the remaining shortfall onto the backs of educators,” Arkansas Education Association Executive Director Tracey-Ann Nelson said. She and other educators’ advocates say we should look to the state surplus for the rest. Read more HERE.


ICMYI: State called on to use surplus on health plan

May 17, 2021

The Arkansas Education Association is calling on state officials to use part of the general revenue surplus to address the funding shortfall in the state’s health insurance plan for public school employees.

“Following the announcement of a $700 million surplus, we believe some of those funds should be used to prevent teachers and education support professionals from massive rate hikes that will likely force many to drop the plan,” Tracey-Ann Nelson, the association’s executive director, said Friday.

“Arkansas’ educators risked their health to keep our schools open during the pandemic. It is imperative their health insurance plan be affordable and provide meaningful benefits,” AEA President Carol B. Fleming.

 

Act responsibly 
Fix educator insurance plan funding 

CAROL B. FLEMING
SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE • May,17th, 2021

Arkansas educators devote their lives to teaching, supporting, and inspiring our state’s future. Educators have shown up in school buildings every day during the worst public health crisis in our lifetime. I am in awe of the creativity, strength and commitment they have shown to meet the needs of their students.

In the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed and Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a measure raising the median teacher pay in Arkansas after data showed Arkansas was falling behind other Southern states. This is a good and important step forward to reduce the pay disparity between districts; however, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this pay increase won’t reach most teachers in our state. In addition, no educational support professionals like bus drivers, bookkeepers, custodians, secretaries, or special education aides will see a benefit.

Now, educators are facing an additional challenge. Rising health-care costs and a flawed funding mechanism have created a projected shortfall of approximately $70 million in the Public School Employee health insurance plan. After hearing of the shortfall, the state Legislature abolished the State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Board overseeing the plan and shifted that responsibility to the State Board of Finance, which has never dealt with health plans or insurance.

Before the board was abolished, it adopted a proposal that would dramatically harm educators by increasing monthly insurance premiums by an astonishing 10, 15 and 20 percent in the 2022 plan year. In addition, educators would lose half of a wellness benefit that currently reduces premium costs. This means the monthly contribution for a single employee on the classic plan would jump 45 percent from $71 to $103 each month. This untenable proposal is now being considered by the Board of Finance.

These dramatic increases in insurance premiums will erode the progress in teacher pay and drive educators who are not teachers out of the plan altogether. This reduced pool will make the plan less financially secure and more expensive to operate while robbing people of a key benefit that helps secure a stable work force.

This painful proposal won’t solve the underlying issue. Health-care costs are rising at an annual rate of 7 percent, but there is no built-in state funding mechanism to anticipate this, resulting in the state contributing a smaller percentage of the plan’s cost each year.

Arkansas’ educators risked their health to keep our schools open during the pandemic. It is imperative their health insurance plan be affordable and provide meaningful benefits. Educators must have a seat at the table for decisions regarding their plan.

Now, policymakers must step up and do right by educators. The state has reported a surplus of over $700 million. The plan needs a short-term infusion of state revenue to avoid shifting the cost to educators in the coming months. In the long term, the state must act responsibly by creating a sustainable funding mechanism that anticipates the annual increase in health-care costs. 

 


Increased Tax Deduction for AR Educators

May 3, 2021

Q: I am about to file my taxes, isn’t there a state law to help educators pay for materials?

A: Yes! As of July 1, 2017 most public school educators in Arkansas are now eligible for a state income tax deduction called the Teacher’s Classroom Investment Deduction. This year, the state legislature doubled the amount beginning in the 2021 tax year.
An educator is eligible for a deduction of up to $500 or $1000 for two educators filing jointly. Note that this is in addition to the existing federal tax deduction.

Q: What can I count toward this deduction?

A: Qualified classroom investment expenses – This means materials used in the classroom, including books, school supplies, computer equipment and software, athletic equipment, food for the teacher’s students and clothing for the teacher’s students.

Q: Who is eligible for this tax deduction?

A: In the law, “Teacher” means a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide for students in any grade from prekindergarten through grade 12 who is employed for at least 900 hours in a tax year at a school certified by the state to provide public preschool, elementary, or secondary education.


AEA Celebrates Read Across America with Gov. Asa Hutchinson

Mar 2, 2021

Join AEA, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and a special guest to celebrate Read Across America this week. Visit nea.org/readacross for resources to help you join the celebration!


2021 AEA Primary Election

Feb 8, 2021

AEA members can vote during the AEA Primary Election beginning at 8:00 a.m. on February 8, 2021 and ending on February 22, 2021 at 5:00 p.m.

Active members can vote online at www.aeaonline.org. Members can access the voting site seven days a week, 24 hours a day during the voting period. You must enter your voter ID that is printed on your AEA membership card. Contact rpipkins@aeanea.org the AEA Office if you need any assistance with your voter ID. Retired members receive a ballot by regular mail to vote for NEA Retired Delegates.

Learn about the candidates in the latest issue of the Arkansas Educator HERE.

Should there be a 2021 Final Election, it will be held March 22, 2021 beginning at 8:00 a.m. and ending April 12, 2021 at 5:00 p.m.


Don’t Miss Your Shot to Stop COVID-19

Jan 29, 2021

Educators and health experts partnered to share information about Arkansas’s public school vaccination effort and answer questions in a virtual event this Thursday.

Watch the “Don't miss your shot to stop COVID-19!” event below. The event is organized in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, and the Arkansas School Boards Association.