Arkansas lawmakers will have to decide whether offering teachers the same health insurance plan as other state workers is required under a Supreme Court decision on school funding. It's a decision that could add hundreds of million of dollars to a state budget already being drafted.

Arkansas lawmakers will have to decide whether offering teachers the same health insurance plan as other state workers is required under a Supreme Court decision on school funding. It's a decision that could add hundreds of million of dollars to a state budget already being drafted.
Legislators on the House and Senate's education committees agreed Thursday to a set of recommendations that would increase state funding between $34.4 million and $58.8 million per year during the next biennium. The latest recommendations come more than a year after the state Supreme Court ended the long-running Lake View school-funding case, ruling that the state had adequately funded its schools
But the panel said more study was needed on issues such as rising health insurance costs and districts struggling with high fuel prices.
Statistics provided to the state show teachers cover about 56 percent of rate costs for their health insurance, while state employees pay in only about a third of the overall cost. But estimates show that bringing teachers into the same plans as state employees would cost the state an additional $229 million for the next two-year budget. In the 2013-2015 budget, estimates put the cost at $395 million.
Slowly putting teachers on the same plan by 2015 would cost $62 million in the first two-year budget before reaching $38 million by the 2013-2015 budget.
Though leading a discussion about the issue, State Sen. Jim Argue, D-Little Rock, told the committee that the ultimate decision likely would be out of their hands.
"The truth is those legislators on both sides of that question ought to be able to agree that that's a debate nobody can really win until at some future date that the court decides and tells us whether that's a part of adequacy or not," Argue said. "Nobody has a convincing, sentient argument on either side."
Rep. Rick Saunders, D-Hot Springs, disagreed.
"My point is we're going to have to decide," Saunders said. "I don't know where to go from here and I'm very confused about this. I want kids to learn."
Only Rep. Mike Kenney, R-Siloam Springs, suggested offering teachers $1,500 deductibles as a means to cut costs, saying many businesses had done the same thing. However, no one debated Argue when he asked if anyone thought a 17-percent contribution was enough to attract and keep teachers in the state's classrooms.
Legislators set themselves a Nov. 1 deadline to decide what to do about both health-care coverage and rising school transportation costs, both which have yet to be added to the adequacy report. The committee's next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 22.