According to a recent New York Times report, the Affordable Care Act requires businesses of 50 or more employees to provide health benefits to employees working more than 30 hours a week — or face a penalty. President Obama twice delayed this specific requirement, but Jan. 1, 2015 marked the beginning of its enforcement.

One of the consequences of that provision affects substitute teachers in school districts.

Across the nation, public sector employees, including substitute teachers, have seen their hours reduced as employers attempt to avoid paying for health insurance. District 91 is not immune to the effects of the ACA regulations and it is taking an active approach in adjusting to the new requirements. As Supt. Lou Cavallo explained at a recent school board meeting, the administration is emphasizing the importance of consistent attendance and limiting personal days by its teaching staff.

D91 is having trouble maintaining a reliable number of substitute teachers, but according to Edward Brophy, assistant superintendent of Operations, that is not because of ACA. 

“The district’s ability to retain substitute teachers has not been significantly affected by the ACA [The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act],” Brophy said. “There is a nationwide shortage of substitute teachers, which is attributed to an improving economy and a more competitive job market.”

They are also focusing on long-term planning regarding insurance costs, said Brophy. “The district evaluates its insurance program on an annual basis to see if any adjustments can be made in carrier selection or plan design to help reduce the impact of increased costs caused by both organic trend increases to the costs of insurance and the ACA.”

Stability and continuity for students is prioritized. With an active roster of 37 substitutes, D91 relies on these individuals to cover expected and unexpected teacher absences. 

“Approximately 3-5% of classes may be taught by a substitute teacher on a daily basis,” Brophy said, “which varies throughout the year based on Instructional Decision Making (IDM) meetings and the professional development schedule.”

He added that “students are affected by the interruption in continuity as it is preferred to have the classroom teacher instructing the class. However, the building principals, instructional assistants, teachers and substitute teachers do what is necessary to ensure that instruction is delivered continuously for students throughout the district.

As reported by the Times in January 2015, The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation raising the threshold of full-time employment to 40 hours, instead of the ACA-defined 30-hour mark. But the Save American Workers Act faces obstacles before implementation. The legislation must pass the Senate before reaching President Obama for final signature. 

Asked if the new 40-hour threshold would help D91, Brophy responded, “Raising the threshold to 40 hours per week would alleviate the need to monitor the hours worked by substitute teachers [but] it will not likely have a significant impact on the shortage of substitute teachers.”

Other local school districts, including District 200 (Oak Park and River Forest High School in neighboring Oak Park, are also working to adjust to the ACA regulations. David Ruhland, director of Human Resources at OPRF, told the Review, “We rely on guidance from our benefits advisor in order to remain compliant with the benefit regulations.”