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Substitute Teachers In Seattle Push For Better Health Insurance Coverage

Scott A. Miller
AP Images for National Council on Aging and Sanofi Pasteur

Across the state, school district officials are meeting at the bargaining table with teachers’ unions. In Seattle, teachers who work as substitutes said they’ve been largely shut out of the district’s health insurance plan and they’re pushing to have better health coverage included in the new contract.

Substitute teachers and other substitute staff qualify for health insurance when they work 60 consecutive days in one position, according to the existing contract.

Whitney Kahn, a substitute paraeducator in Seattle, said that doesn’t make sense.

“That’s something we really are striving to change,” he said. “Sixty days in the same position –that’s not how subbing generally works. Most people, you’re not in one position for three or four months, you jump around.”

Kahn, who has Type 1 diabetes, said he has to limit how much he works so he doesn’t exceed the income threshold that qualifies him for health insurance through the expansion of Medicaid. He’d like to work more hours because his rent keeps going up and wishes that he qualified for insurance from the school district, he said.

Toby de Luca has his teacher’s certificate and works full time as a substitute in Seattle public school classrooms. He said he almost qualified for health insurance from the district, but the regular teacher was called back early from maternity leave.

So de Luca goes without health insurance even though working with kids means he comes into contact with a lot of germs.

“To not have health care, I’m putting myself at risk every day to get infections and strep throat and pinkeye and all these viruses that I have no coverage or protection against,” he said.

Without health insurance, de Luca said he has to pay an annual fine to the IRS. the health plans he could afford have very high deductibles, so they aren’t worth it.

Seattle Public Schools didn’t have an immediate response to this story. In an update last week, the district said it’s getting a one-time funding increase from the state for this fall, but  it faces a funding gap in subsequent years because of a limit on local levies.

The Seattle Education Association is planning a rally on Aug. 15 at district headquarters.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.