Teacher Healthcare Matters



So, I am sick. I am really sick.  Last year I came down with Valley Fever. Let’s just say if I was on the Oregon trail; I probably wouldn’t have made it past Kansas.  My illness knocked me out for nearly two weeks because of its severity. Even today, one year later, I am still not functioning at 100%. It has forced me to burn a lot of sick days going to get X-rays and CAT scans and though I am grateful for my ten days of paid sick leave, what I really wish I had was health insurance that covered me completely.

This month I will finally pay off my lung biopsy, which has taken nearly a year to pay off.  Apparently, my health insurance plan only covers partially for a procedure like this. When I used to teach in Belgium, we had a plan that covered everything. Not only that, our health care plan was 100% paid for by the employer. Not only that, I was able to add my entire family for a very nominal fee. So far since coming home to the States, I see very few, if any, school districts that take care of their employee’s families.  Instead, any plan offered is only “mostly” free to the employee, with substantial cost to add family members.

I am very fortunate that my wife’s plan covers her and our kids. I often wish I could afford to be under her plan. But who I truly feel for, are some of my co-workers who are the sole providers for their families. I still can’t figure out how they do it. My para pro, for example, he is a single dad, and he had to have his ex-girlfriend cover his son’s insurance because as a para-pro, adding even one individual family member to your plan means zero paycheck.

One co-worker in particular with a very large family literally works only to provide the healthcare for her brood. Her entire check goes to insurance, as her husband is self-employed. I see this kind of situation all the time now, and I feel this is problematic.

Both my parents were teachers and back in their day, their health insurance covered them and the family completely. It was not even something you worried about. Today we are seeing an increase in what we have to pay every single year.  I can tell you from personal experience, my coverage has gotten worse every year, and now I am paying an added fee to what I used to get for free, and you will find I am not that unusual of a case. My district is actually better than most, but in some places the situation is dire.  So much so, you would be better going on govt care.

To keep teachers, we need to take a closer look at their benefits. Culturally if you look at our teacher population today, there are not many people in the profession who are the sole breadwinners anymore. If you look back 20 -30 years ago, that was not necessarily the case. A teacher could make enough to support their family and provide health coverage for the family. Today the combination of lack of benefits and the low pay, are turning teaching more and more into a gig/side job, and less of a professional career. I believe this is a significant problem. K-12 education should not be a junior college adjunct format of education.  The side effects of this is a workforce that is not wholly embedded in the educational process to help kids learn.  We need the lifers with their experience and knowledge. We need people with years of experience to teach the next generation of teachers. I fear that we are seeing this new kind of model expand, one in which you can only afford to teach for a short time, and I do not believe this is conducive to a healthy education system — both literally and figuratively. We need a workforce that is both competent and full time, and the only way to do that is to give folks a chance to support their families.

In conclusion, even if our school districts gave us a 1% inflation raise every year, it still would not be enough to counter the rising costs of healthcare. So, what do we do, accept the fact we have to take a pay cut in perpetuity? I am grateful for the raises in the last 18 months, but what good is my raise if my insurance keeps outpacing that raise?  I have numerous friends and colleagues who before the 20 for 20 initiative were quite literally taking a pay cut every year due to insurance hikes.  If we are not careful, once this initial 20 for 20 plans is over, we could be looking at this situation getting beyond repair.  I know pay is on everyone’s minds, but the benefits we get with teaching should not be overlooked, especially when it comes to the healthcare of our teacher workforce.



Mike Vargas

My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

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