Newsom seeks to spice up fund for adjunct faculty medical insurance

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By Mikhail Zinshteyn

CalMatters

Part-time instructors at California’s community colleges need to work multiple jobs to make a living wage, but some still don’t have enough medical insurance.

A state fund to assist them hasn’t been increased for many years from $490,000 a 12 months, but now Gov. Gavin Newsom proposes so as to add $200 million annually. While the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says there’s no data to justify that spending, a union has collected survey information that would help the governor’s case.

The California Federation of Teachers gathered survey results this 12 months from about 2,500 part-time instructors, just about all of them teachers at community colleges — a large share of the roughly 35,000 part-timers employed across the state’s sprawling community college system.

The survey shows that 6% of part-time faculty, often referred to adjuncts, don’t have medical insurance from any source. A 3rd of respondents said they receive insurance from a school at which they teach. A couple of quarter relied on their spouse’s coverage and 17% got theirs from Covered California or Medi-Cal.

Many say they still skip out on vital medical care — a sign that their insurance could also be inadequate. Of those that responded, 30% said they didn’t get a medical test or exam that was really useful by a health care provider. Nearly a fifth of respondents said they didn’t fill a prescription for themselves or a dependent and 11% said they cut pills in half or skipped doses.

The info, shared exclusively with CalMatters before being released, gives rare, if incomplete, insight into the health advantages and labor patterns of part-time faculty. Sometimes known in education circles as “freeway flyers” due to multiple colleges many instructors work at to earn a living wage, these adjuncts make up a lot of the teaching faculty within the state’s 116 community colleges but typically earn far less for a similar amount of labor full-time faculty receive.

The union argues that employers ought to be providing medical insurance, not spouses or public subsidies.

“That’s the fee of getting employees,” said Jeffery Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, which represents part-time faculty in a few third of the state’s 73 community college districts, in addition to other employees.

In its latest state budget goals, the leadership of the state Senate is assuming Newsom’s $200 million plan passes, though nothing is finalized, said the office of President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego.

Current health program

Newsom’s plan is to supercharge a state fund from the Nineteen Nineties that enables colleges to be partially reimbursed for providing medical insurance to part-time faculty.

But that program only receives $490,000 a 12 months, meaning it reimburses districts for pennies on the dollar of the true cost. The state program excludes vision and dental coverage. Districts as an alternative use money from other state and native sources to supply insurance, but plans vary from covering all of a part-time faculty member’s premium costs to under 30%.

Meanwhile, part-time community college faculty at nearly half the faculty districts get no employer-provided medical insurance, an EdSource investigation found.

A separate evaluation by the union suggests that an extra $200 million a 12 months could be very near the quantity needed to supply high-quality medical insurance to 50% of part-time faculty. The union’s evaluation assumes employees wouldn’t pay greater than 10% of the premium costs.

The 50% cutoff within the evaluation also assumes that currently no district can have greater than half of their part-timers eligible for this medical insurance due to minimum work requirements. If this system is best funded, it’s likely more faculty will participate.

One part-timer’s situation

The federation of teachers desires to apply several tweaks to Newsom’s plan before the state budget should be passed by June 15.

One is to permit part-time faculty to mix their teaching loads at multiple districts to succeed in the state program’s minimum 40% threshold of full-time work needed to access medical insurance coverage. Currently, an instructor who teaches 20% of a full-time load at two different districts is unable to merge those workloads to receive medical insurance. Some colleges decide to require the next threshold for part-time faculty to access insurance. To get around that, the union also desires to make the 40% threshold the minimum requirement across all colleges. But that rule would apply only to schools that wish to use additional state medical insurance dollars if there’s money left over.

Either of those changes would help restore no-cost or inexpensive medical insurance for Juli Jones, likely saving her greater than $1,000 a month. Jones is a U.S. history professor at Cuyamaca College in San Diego County. Until last September, she received medical insurance from the faculty’s district, together with her employer paying the complete premium. But because the faculty cut her teaching load from five classes to 4 the past two academic years, she fell below the minimum hour threshold to receive district-paid insurance.

To maintain her insurance advantages, she purchased a COBRA plan that costs around $1,370 a month for her and her husband, she said. Because of a health issue, she dialed back her teaching duties at one other nearby college district, but in normal times she’d be teaching at each districts to cobble together full-time work.

The pursuit for enough teaching assignments to qualify for advantages “looks like Russian roulette,” Jones said. “It’s like a roller coaster that never stops and I’m all the time desperately attempting to get more sections to feed this thing and keep it going.”

A part of an even bigger picture

No less than one lawmaker had argued that the road to raised advantages is for more part-time faculty to grow to be tenured. “It’s a no brainer to me: Why not only hire them full-time, give them the advantages that they deserve as a full-time worker?” asked Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, a Democrat from Long Beach, during a hearing in April. “I’m still scuffling with this $200 million concept since it’s a patch, not a fix.”

But college finance officers last 12 months said declining community college enrollment means locking in money for full-time faculty makes little fiscal sense. Faculty disagreed.

It could appear counterintuitive for unions to vie for higher treatment of part-time faculty when additionally they want more full-time openings at the universities. But by paying part-time faculty “such as you pay full-time faculty” and giving them health care, colleges haven’t any profit to proceed hiring part-time faculty, “so you would possibly as well hire full-time faculty,” Freitas said.

Just a few third of the school are full-time with advantages. Not only does that full-time status include higher pay, however the salaries account for all of the work faculty must do outside the classroom to teach their students, comparable to grading, lesson planning and mentoring students. But rarely do colleges pay part-time faculty for that nonclassroom work.

There’s increased pushback to that reality. Two part-time community college faculty are suing Long Beach City College, arguing that the uncompensated work they do outside the classroom violates state minimum wage law. Relatedly, a bill by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, a Democrat from Los Angeles, would require that schools pay part-time faculty at a rate equal to what full-time faculty earn. A legislative committee estimates this alone would cost at the very least $267 million annually.

The brand new union survey shows that 59% of respondents earn lower than $40,000 from their teaching jobs — though greater than half work at the very least 50% of a full teaching load and most wish to teach more. Meanwhile, the investigation by EdSource revealed that the common pay for part-time community college faculty is lower than $20,000.

Jones, the San Diego-area part-time instructor, is just not alone in seeing her teaching load cut. Declining student enrollments have prompted community colleges to shrink the variety of classes they provide, leaving less work for nontenured teachers.

That had the Legislative Analyst’s Office asking whether tying part-time faculty medical insurance to varsity employment is sensible. “Potentially having to alter health plans often is likely to be less optimal for part-time faculty than remaining insured under Covered California.”

But when the state pours more cash into part-time faculty health plans, “unions and the districts may negotiate to enhance the advantages currently offered,” said Laurel Lucia, director of the health care program on the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Colleges that already offer health plans to part-time faculty “might reduce the premium amount that the employee is required to pay or they could reduce the quantity that individuals need to pay out of pocket to access care.”

Jones said she’ll enroll with Covered California if her COBRA runs out early next 12 months and her employer medical insurance isn’t restored. That’s not ideal, she said, because she’s used to the doctors and care on her current plan, which she may lose under a unique insurer.

“But, frankly, if I’m not teaching enough, then the probabilities of my with the ability to afford the payment (for Covered California) aren’t superb either,” Jones said.

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