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Schools struggle to make PPACA work

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Public and private K-12 schools are searching for ways to cut employee hours and otherwise control costs as they respond to the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

As with the private sector, the schools are struggling with the new definition of a full-time worker. Under PPACA, someone who works an average of 30 hours a week is considered a full-time employee.  

The problem is especially profound for public schools that have been experiencing financial challenges for years as costs have risen while taxpayer support of schools has waned.

Now, the schools are reviewing their use of substitute teachers and support staff to determine how many of them may qualify for benefits.  

Besides substitute teachers, others that could fall under the coverage requirement include bus drivers, cafeteria workers and classroom aides.

Typically, schools don’t offer a full benefits package (if any benefits at all) to substitutes and to many support staff. The new PPACA 30-hour benchmark could trigger the benefits requirement, experts are saying.

The full-time worker definition is even trickier when it comes to K-12 education, because many employees don’t work year-round.

To be on the safe side, the National School Board Association says, members are doing what they can to ensure that substitute teachers aren’t classified as full-time employees.

“Many of our members are rethinking part-time employees and substitute teachers,” said NSBA spokeswoman Alexis Rice.

In the meantime, the National Education Association, which represents teachers, has begun discussing with local teachers union leaders ways to keep school officials from reducing employee hours as they try to avoid extending health benefits to more employees.

The NEA is focusing on the 30-hour definition of a full-time employee, attempting to more closely define how it will be applied to those in K-12 education who may not work year-round.

Many school employees are expected to qualify for tax subsidies under the PPACA, which are available starting in January to people who make within 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four in 2013). 

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