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Reality Check: Will Putting Teachers In State Health Plan Save Money?

Published On: Sep 08 2010 06:26:09 AM CDT   Updated On: Sep 08 2010 08:03:50 AM CDT

As part of its work with We the People Wisconsin Fact Finder, WISC-TV is looking at a question from a viewer about a plan by Republican candidate for governor Scott Walker.

Lori Boness Caswell asked, "What's the truth about putting teachers in the state pool for health insurance?"

As part of his penny-pinching mantra, Walker is promising to allow teachers into the state health plan to save money.

"School districts spend millions more of our tax dollars than they need to for employee health care, and we can save $68 million per year just by letting schools get into the state health plan," Walker says in a television ad.

A WISC-TV analysis found that this claim needs clarification.

First, districts can get in the plan right now, but teachers unions have to agree. Walker's plan takes the issue off the bargaining table, allowing a school board to make the move on its own.

The state teachers union opposes this, saying unions should be able to bargain health care. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards is for it.

Currently, only three districts in the state are part of the plan, including Monona Grove, which joined more than 15 years ago and said it's still the best-value option for the district. However, other districts, like Madison, said it wouldn't save them any money.

The Madison Metropolitan School District said it has looked at the option for about the last 20 years and said its own negotiated plan is always cheaper.

This proposal isn't new. It passed the Republican-controlled legislature in its budget in 2003, and the provision was vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle, WISC-TV reported.

"That's a lot of money, money we could use to lower taxes and still put more teachers in the classroom," Walker says in the ad.

A WISC-TV analysis found this needs clarification as well.

Walker's plan would let districts keep any money they save to help hold down taxes or hire more teachers, but that's not to say that the state couldn't cut back funding to schools, knowing they are getting costs savings elsewhere.

Could the plan really save $68 million? That's questionable, WISC-TV reported. A voluntary program means districts wouldn't have to change, and some have already negotiated their own plans, which is saving them money already.

Do you have a claim you want investigated? E-mail it to

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    Todd Merryfield, owner of The Learning Shop at 714 S. Gammon Road, said the store is collecting the bears for officers who use them to help comfort children with whom police come in contact.

    "This is a great way to support what (police) do," Merryfield said. "Those are the kids that need something like this to reassure them, calm them down, and let them know that things are all right."

    Nearly 500 plush animals were donated Tuesday, a Learning Shop spokeswoman said. The Madison store's effort is part of a larger initiative through the Bears for Humanity organization. 

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