Editorial: Health costs, budget crunch affect schools

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 25, 2002

With teachers already on the picket line in one rural Minnesota school district, and with strikes looming in at least two others &045; one of which is nearby United South Central &045; it’s becoming more clear how two nagging public problems are having an impact on school districts: The rising cost of health insurance and the budget snafus in Greater Minnesota school districts.

In USC and Red Wing, two districts where teachers appear close to a strike, major issues include increases in health-insurance premiums and the teachers’ desire for better severance packages. Many of the costs of more expensive health insurance have already been passed on to employees in almost every profession, but when it comes to teachers, making some concessions in that area leaves them in no mood to give up more in other parts of their contract.

In a nation where health coverage is dependent upon employment, few things are more important than having an acceptable and affordable plan through an employer. With rising health care costs driving the increases in insurance premiums, it becomes more clear that officials in St. Paul and Washington need to address problems like the high cost of prescription drugs and lagging Medicare reimbursement rates, which add to the cost of health care for everyone.

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School funding from the state has also been problematic. While the state has not cut funding to schools, the funding it has given them hasn’t allowed them to keep pace with rising costs, and in areas with declining enrollment, the state hasn’t been able to provide a remedy that eases the effect on the budgets. Averaging enrollment numbers over a three-year period to determine funding would be one way to let rural schools ease into budget cuts instead of absorbing the shock all at once.

Most state and federal lawmakers count education and health care among their top priorities; seeing how those issues affect local schools helps illustrate why. Unless there is substantive reform, it’s likely that we’ll be hearing about more schools where teachers feel they aren’t being paid fairly, and where school districts plead poverty.