Legislature looks at paying for educators’ health care premiums in full

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Kevin Darrow, a music teacher at Wood Gormley Elementary School, estimated he spends nearly 14% of his earnings — some $600 per month — on health insurance.  “For a teacher, that’s a lot of money,” he said.  And Darrow said he’s one of the lucky ones because […]

Legislature looks at paying for educators’ health care premiums in full

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Kevin Darrow, a music teacher at Wood Gormley Elementary School, estimated he spends nearly 14% of his earnings — some $600 per month — on health insurance. 

“For a teacher, that’s a lot of money,” he said. 

And Darrow said he’s one of the lucky ones because he shares that cost with his spouse. As the cost of living in Santa Fe continues to increase, he noted many of his fellow teachers — often master’s degree-level professionals — have to find roommates or get creative to stretch their earnings.

Figuring out how to pay for health insurance is part of that household budget calculus. 

A bill before the Legislature this session is intended ease the burden of high health care costs, specifically for educators. House Bill 102, which would require school districts, charter schools and other educational institutions pay for the first $10,000 of health insurance costs for educators, secured a do-pass recommendation from the House Labor, Veterans’ and Military Affairs Committee in a unanimous vote Tuesday, despite scrutiny from Republican committee members.

Currently, educators pay an average of about $10,000 per year — $3,000 more per year than most public employees — on health care, state Department of Finance and Administration analyst Simon Miller told the committee.

For many educators, that’s just unaffordable, said Lori Ortega, executive director of the state’s branch of the National Education Association.  

The bill is designed to fix that problem. If it passes, an average of $4,000 a year in health care costs would shift from educators to their employers, bringing educators to about $1,000 less in health care costs each year than most public employees, Miller said.

“HB 102 will provide affordable, high-quality health care benefits for all educators and eliminate unneeded stress from educators minds by allowing them to focus on their classrooms,” Rep. Raymundo Lara, D-Chamberino, who co-sponsored the bill, said before the committee.

The bill covers all school employees, including classroom teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodial staff.

The goal behind HB 102 — to largely eliminate health care premium costs for New Mexico educators — was among the priorities announced in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s second inaugural address in January. 

“Taking care of our educators and increasing their overall compensation supports better outcomes and is in the best interest of New Mexico students and families,” Lujan Grisham said of the legislation in a recent news release. 

Where would the funding come from to help districts and schools cover these increased costs? While the bill does not include a direct appropriation, the governor’s executive budget recommendation includes $100 million to cover the health insurance premiums. 

The bill has support from those who see it as another way to recruit and retain New Mexico teachers and improve student outcomes. 

Hiring educators remains one of the primary challenges facing districts across the state, said Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez. 

“I think this would go a long way in helping us retain but also recruit individuals into our profession. This allows us to add another incentive [when we] go out out and recruit to bring individuals to the world of education,” Chavez said of the legislation. 

Because Santa Fe Public Schools currently pays for educators’ insurance in line with the bill’s requirements — paying for the first $10,000 and 60% of costs beyond that — Chavez said state dollars for employee insurance costs would allow the district to invest funds currently going toward benefits back into the classroom.

Educator recruitment also contributes to better student outcomes, said Interim Public Education Department Secretary Mariana Padilla. 

“If we’re really going to address student and student proficiency in this state, we must ensure that we have well-qualified educators in every single classroom,” Padilla said. “This bill will allow us to address those vacancies and to support not only our educators but all school personnel.”

But some committee members questioned the bill’s fairness, raising concerns about decreasing health care costs for educators without doing the same for other public employees.

“How do we pick and choose who gets the benefit of this?” asked Rep. Andrea Reeb, R-Clovis. “To me, it’s not seeming fair across the board for all the different state employees that are in the same situation.”

Miller pointed out the bill actually decreases the unequal health insurance costs between teachers and other public employees, from teachers paying about $3,000 more to about $1,000 less than other public employees

“Yes, [it’s] an inequity. But smaller than the current inequity,” Miller said. 

Lara said he’d eventually like to decrease insurance costs for public employees across the board. He agreed to work with Rep. Harlan Vincent, R-Ruidoso Downs, on a bill to accomplish that goal. 

Instructors from the University of New Mexico voiced similar concerns. They said they face the same challenges in paying for insurance. Lara responded UNM employees do not qualify for the bill’s insurance cost relief because the university does not procure insurance through the New Mexico Public School Insurance Authority, the agency the bill is designed to address.  

The bill, Lara said, is the “first step” in ensuring health insurance is not prohibitively expensive for any public employees. Ultimately, this satisfied the the committee’s Republican contingent, which unanimously signed off on HB 102.

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

A New Mexico-based LGBTQ rights organization endorsed 15 candidates for state House and Senate seats for the 2024 elections.  Marshall Martinez, executive director of…
Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed two bills the legislature passed this legislative session: one changing the Cybersecurity Act and the other concerning law…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…
Heinrich co-sponsors legislation to address PFAS in private wells

Heinrich co-sponsors legislation to address PFAS in private wells

About 13 percent of New Mexico’s population relies solely on private wells for drinking water and this removes a level of health security. For…
EPA announces new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals

EPA announces new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced drinking water standards on Wednesday that are intended to protect Americans from contamination from PFAS chemicals. This is…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Good morning fellow political junkies! Early and absentee voting for the June 4 New Mexico primary begins in about a month. The nonprofit election…
San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

The Navajo Nation and San Juan County reached an agreement Monday about commission districts after the tribe alleged that its members were not adequately…
MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

New Mexico’s 2022 election was ranked most well-run in the country by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Data and Science Lab’s Elections Performance Index.…
What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

Post-pandemic, New Mexico has had an extended run of low unemployment rates. New Mexico’s unemployment rate has remained stable at 4.0 percent since October…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report