There are 47,000 teachers in our state impacting the lives of every Arkansas family with children in public schools.
Great teachers develop great students. They deserve not only our thanks, but our due diligence in making sure their needs are met. That is why when legislators recently became aware that they, along with the staff supporting them, were facing a 50% increase in their health insurance premiums, we began to act. For many families this meant monthly premiums of over $1,500.
The chair of our Education committee and the chair of our Insurance and Commerce committee held hearings soon after the increase was announced to begin work on a solution. The Governor subsequently called a special session and we are happy to report our progress on the issue this week.
During the recent 3 day session we passed a measure to provide an immediate remedy and several bills designed to prevent such a hike in the future.
The bill impacting insurance premiums this year came in the form of a $43 million appropriation from surplus funds. This will lower the increase for teacher and school employee insurance premiums to 10%.
With an overwhelming majority, we passed 3 additional bills to help find a permanent solution. The first develops a14 member task force which will include state insurance officials and teachers. The task force will have until June 2014 to make recommendations.
We also passed a bill which lowers the amount of professional development hours required by our teachers from 60 hours to 36 hours a year. We must maintain a reasonable requirement to ensure our teachers are up to date on new research on how children learn. The reduction will passed will still maintain a healthy level of development while diverting millions in savings to teacher’s insurance in future years.
And we passed a bill redirecting another $16 million a year to teacher’s insurance through savings from a school facilities program.
Special sessions are rarely called. The most recent one was called back in 2008.
When they are called, we want to ensure they are brief and effective. We believe we have done that in this 3 day session.
We will continue to update you on the work of the newly formed task force in months to come.
If you would like to view any portion of the committee meetings or House sessions from the recent session go to the video library at arkansashouse.org