Pennsylvania school districts spend about $1.5 billion annually on medical and prescription drug insurance. That translates into $1 out of every $6 in school property taxes collected, according to Gov. Ed Rendell. The governor is pushing legislation that would create a 12-member board to forge one health insurance plan for all the state's school districts. The aim is to suppress increases in health care costs — and the property taxes that pay for school employee benefits — by spreading risk more widely, managing benefits better and lowering school administrative costs.
The idea is not new. Teachers in other states are covered by statewide health plans.
It is hoped the proposal will come to fruition in Pennsylvania.
There are hurdles, chiefly getting school boards and the teachers union to sign on. Neither has endorsed the plan but both have expressed general support for it. The school board association wants assurance that the plan is focused on serving current workers rather than retirees. And by some estimates, teachers in half the state's school districts do not have to pay anything for their medical insurance. The plan may be a tough sell to those educators. But as health care costs have risen, teachers in more school districts have begun shouldering a portion of their insurance premiums. That has been the case in several Central Susquehanna Valley school districts.
Launching a plan to cover all school employees would relieve individual districts of a lingering headache. Wrangling over the best way to cope with rising medical insurance costs has stalled labor negotiations between teachers and school boards. Come tax time, the costs are often the demon blamed for another hike.
Worse, dealing with medical insurance costs takes attention away from schools' true mission: educating our children.