Cate hopeful on teacher health care bill

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(Host) Education commissioner Richard Cate says he hopes lawmakers will seriously consider a bill that would have the state provide health care benefits to all teachers in the state.

According to a recent report, health care expenses account for 22% of most teachers’ total wage and benefits package.

Speaking at VPR’s Symposium on the Future of Education Costs, Cate said he believes it would be helpful if the state took over this responsibility as a way to take pressure off of local school budgets:

(Cate) “To pull health insurance out of the local contracts and put it at the state level the way we have retirement at the state level and be uniform in that and actually have that broader base. So I think that’s worth pursuing. It’s challenging but somehow retirement ended up there so why not health insurance?”

(Host) Some lawmakers also want the state to pick up the local share of special education costs. Cate says the state currently pays about 60% of these expenses while the federal government and local schools split the remaining 40%.

Cate doesn’t like this proposal because he feels it would drive special education costs even higher in the future:

(Cate) “If the local people don’t have ownership of that I’m concerned that because of the potential for special ed to cost much more than it does now. It costs a lot of money now. It could cost twice what it does. And if people all of a sudden decide well the state’s paying for it I don’t care. I’ll just place all my children in a residential setting outside the boundaries of Vermont at very large sums of money – that would not be a good thing.”

(Host) The House Education committee is expected to support legislation that will study the possibility of consolidating school districts in Vermont. Cate says he generally supports this kind of review to determine if such a plan will actually help reduce costs.

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