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No health insurance for substitute teachers? That could change

After filling four semester-long classroom vacancies in the Clark County School District, substitute teacher Brandon Summers isn’t doing it anymore.

The reason? “Taking on a long-term assignment has a lot of responsibilities and the pay is not commensurate,” he said.

It’s also committing to a chaotic situation where a job wasn’t filled or a teacher left mid-year, said Summers, who covered three vacancies in orchestra and one in math.

Now, Summers — a professional violinist who has been a substitute since 2016 — is sticking with covering one to three day-to-day assignments a week.

Summers has health insurance through the state exchange and pays for it out-of-pocket. He’s not eligible to get it through the school district.

But a bill advancing in the state legislature could provide some help for long-term substitute teachers who need health insurance.

Assembly Bill 282 would require school districts to provide a monthly subsidy of at least $450 to full-time substitute teachers. The bill passed 31-11 out of the Assembly last week.

Substitutes who cover 30 or more consecutive instructional days during a school year would be eligible, and would have to provide proof to their school district that they purchased health insurance to continue receiving the subsidy.

During an April 13 hearing, bill sponsor Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong, D-Las Vegas — who is Brandon Summers’ mother — presented alongside Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

The Clark County School District has more than 1,360 teacher vacancies and approximately 4,000 substitute teachers where 20 percent — about 800 — are covering long-term positions.

“Without these folks, we would have no one in our classrooms to teach our children,” she said.

The ACLU of Nevada said in an April 25 statement that it worked with Summers-Armstrong on the legislation.

“Long-term substitute teachers have an important role in our education system, and our state can take a huge step forward in making sure they know they are valued by guaranteeing access to health insurance,” Haseebullah said in the statement.

This session, legislators are also considering Senate Bill 434 that proposes making substitutes eligible for public employee retirement benefits. The bill passed 19-2 out of the Senate last week.

CCSD opposes the bill

A number of groups, including the Washoe Education Association and Nevada State Education Association, have voiced support for the bill. But the Clark and Washoe county school districts, and Nevada Association of School Superintendents, are among those in opposition.

The Clark County School District said in a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal that substitute teachers are an integral part of the district and ensure “our students receive continuous instruction.”

But the district said the bill places an “undue and unfunded burden” on budgets.

The district estimates it would cost $3.3 million annually to provide a subsidy for about 800 substitute teachers. That equates to a $450 payment for nine months.

It would also cost the district an estimated $70,000 for additional staff and other costs.

“The state health exchange has subsidies available for Nevada residents who do not qualify for health coverage through their employer,” the district said. “Additionally, the bill would allow for individuals to collect subsidies for an entire year while only working select days.”

CCSD offers health insurance for some subs

The school district already offers health insurance for some of its long-term substitute teachers, but they don’t receive sick or vacation time. It has also increased substitute teacher pay within the last few years.

The district pays $110 per day for standard day-to-day assignments, $130 for long-term substitutes and $140 for vacancy substitutes.

Pay increases up to $200 per day for those who take assignments at certain Title I schools where a high percentage of students are living in poverty, schools on an “early hiring” list and in hard-to-fill or special education positions.

Patricia Haddad, director of government relations for the district, told legislators last month the district sent a letter to all eligible substitutes and temporary employees in December 2022 about how to enroll in district-provided health insurance for this year.

The letter was sent to 610 people and 57 chose to enroll, she said.

To be eligible, employees must work an average of an average 29.5 hours per week over the course of a year in order to enroll in a plan for the following calendar year.

Assemblywoman Selena La Rue Hatch, D-Reno, said she thinks what the district offers is making the case for why the bill is needed.  

Having to work an entire year before qualifying for benefits seems “pretty extreme,” Hatch said. Most other industries only require a month waiting period, she added.

Comments from substitute teachers

A handful of substitute teachers provided testimony during a hearing last month in support of the bill.

Lisa Roe, a substitute teacher in the Clark County School District for five years, said in written comment that she currently has health insurance through her husband’s employer.

Roe, who was previously a special education teacher for 29 years in the district, wrote she often takes hard-to-fill positions in autism classrooms.

Her husband will retire in two years and then she will need her own health insurance, which may lead to needing full-time employment elsewhere. But Roe wants to continue substitute teaching.

“I enjoy working with the students and helping out my former colleagues when they need to take a day off,” Roe wrote. “Health insurance would be a big motivation to continue subbing and accept long term or vacancy assignments.”

Erica Rojas-Cimental, who has been a substitute for a decade, has taken long-term assignments for the majority of that time.

“How are we supposed to maintain the health of our students and peers,” she wrote, “if we are unable to do so for ourselves?”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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