Healthcare only became part of the national conversation during the Great Depression and New Deal, when companies working under wage controls began offering it as a way to attract better quality employees. That is still the case today. When an industry offers better healthcare and healthy wages, they are often mobbed with candidates.
Teaching today is a difficult enterprise, and it’s hard to convince young people to take this path. There is a projected teacher shortage in many areas of the country. People can make more money in the business world, and they can get better healthcare there as well. Many choose to work as teachers as a “mission field”, where they try to improve the world one student at a time, and they go into it knowing their salaries and their healthcare will not be top-notch.
But not only has healthcare gotten worse, it’s become much more expensive. My husband and I, both teachers in a district with very good salaries for the industry, paid over 20% of our income in 2018 just for healthcare premiums. Later, we had to come up with copays and prescription costs out of pocket on top of that.
We are firmly committed to education, but something has to give. Four years ago, we paid about $800 a month for insurance. Today we pay $1200 a month in insurance premiums, and our insurance has been reduced, with fewer doctors on the plan and higher copays. We even switched from a family plan to one plan with the kids and me and one with my husband, because it cost less that way. How does that make any sense?
Why, in a state where teachers are technically state employees, does each district negotiate their own insurance plans for a few hundred to a few thousand teachers? Why can’t the state negotiate plans for all the teachers, over a quarter of a million, to get us a good deal on health insurance? State employees who are not teachers receive state insurance, and pay radically less in premiums than we do. I don’t want to upset their apple cart, so I’m not asking for us to be on the state insurance…but surely we could work out a good deal for that many teachers.
Inspiring, training and retaining great teachers is hard enough. If this continues, it will become more and more difficult, and we’ll see a diaspora of teachers from education. I know I’m considering leaving the field, despite my firm belief in it, due to the costs. If I’m thinking of it, many more out there are as well.
Trasa Cobern is the Lead Social Studies teacher at the “most diverse high school” in Texas, according to Niche.com rankings. She came to teaching late after staying home with her four boys for over a decade. She has been an elected City Councilmember and was nominated as Campus Teacher of the Year for the past three school years. Her husband left a career in finance to become a teacher four years ago, so they are newly experiencing the healthcare blues in the education world