At a time when the state’s revenue is falling short of expectations, and Governor Sean Parnell is stressing “tightening the belt” on state spending, Senator Mike Dunleavy believes he has an idea that could help out when it comes to education. He is sponsoring legislation that would have employees of all Alaska school districts shop for health insurance as one large group.
“The idea would be, if you could pool a large number of folks into the state system, that you could drive down costs. The cost savings, the idea would be you drive them back into the school districts and into the classrooms. Whatever savings we accomplish in this process, they could use it in the classrooms for hiring teachers, paying teachers, aides, etc. We had a study done by the Hay Group….They gave us a report at a Senate Finance Committee meeting…they believe that it could save the state a considerable amount of money.”
With education spending largely flat versus last year, Senator Dunleavy sees this as an opportunity to put money back in the classroom without dipping further into the state’s reserves. He says that a critical part of the process is getting input from Alaskans who would be living under the proposal.
“We need to keep studying the issue and having conversations with various groups that SB 90 could impact, because, again, this is just one study. We’re getting input from various stakeholders. We’ll be getting input, I’m sure, from the teachers union, principals association, superintendents association, school boards association, health underwriters, folks involved in the insurance industry. We’re going to be getting a lot of information as we have our committee hearings in January. We’re going to take this input, take a look at it, and see if we can craft policy that’s best for Alaska and best for Alaskans.”
At least one group has given its opinion. On December 12th, APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez spoke with Ron Fuhrer of the National Education Association’s Alaska affiliate. He says that the legislation would remove the right of education employees to include health benefits as part of collective bargaining negotiations. Senator Dunleavy says that union negotiations are not what he believes the bill is about.
“The idea of impacting collective bargaining was not part of the bill. That issue has come up, and, again, we have folks looking into the legalities surrounding it. Once we do our research on it, we’ll be able to better respond to it, but that was not part of the process or part of the focus on the bill.”
While Senator Dunleavy believes his plan will save the state money, he says he recognizes that it is in the early phases, and needs more discussion.
“After our discussions and our study of the issues, if it turns out that this is not a good idea, then we won’t do it. If it turns out that this is a good idea, or that there may be an option or two that will work well for Alaskans, then we’ll pursue it, but we’re still in the discussion stage and looking at the data that’s coming in.”
Senator Dunleavy says that anyone who would be affected by the bill can contact his office with comments.