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K12, ACA, and Outsourcing – Part 2 of a 2 part series

Written by Adam Brittain…
It is not terribly difficult to see why outsourcing has come into consideration as an ACA strategy. Most Districts are not budgeted to offer healthcare to their substitute (or variable hour) workforce, and the Affordable Care Act would require offering healthcare to all such employees working more than 30 hours per week (or pay a penalty). For those districts keeping substitutes in-house, a commonly discussed approach is to limit substitutes to three or four days of work per week. This allows principals and teachers to continue to exercise more control over who gets an assignment, and allows the district to more directly control the employer-employee relationship.
Districts choosing to cut hours for substitutes to ensure they remain under the 30 hour mark must now consider the impact to their students of losing consistent long term substitutes or popular substitutes who have learned the culture and approach of a specific school. As an example, if a popular sub has reached their weekly or monthly limit, the district will have to find another.
This raises the question of continuity in the classroom- if a teacher is out for an extended stretch and substitutes are restricted to three days of work per week- how will student achievement be affected* by not only the teacher’s absence but also the cycling in and out of substitutes throughout that absence? This same logic could apply to those outsourcing- what happens if an agency cannot give a school their preferred substitute?
*In the Journal EDUCATIONAL EVALUATION AND POLICY ANALYSIS June 2008 vol. 30 no. 2 181-200, Harvard University authors Miller, Murnane, and Willett estimate “10 additional days of teacher absence reduce mathematics achievement of fourth-grade students by 3.2% of a standard deviation”.
Districts should avoid applying “either/or” logic when choosing between outsourcing versus keeping the status quo and simply cutting hours across the board. *The concept of avoiding “either/or” decisions is explored in depth in the book Decisive, by Chip and Dan Heath, and it focuses on widening options when making decisions.
For example, districts looking to keep their substitutes and variable hour employees in-house might consider an absence management strategy in addition to restricting hours, as improved absence management tracking often improves overall attendance- which supports greater classroom continuity and reduces the need for substitutes. Also, rather than cutting all substitute hours, could districts use talent management tracking to help identify the portion of variable hour employees who excel at their trade, and absorb the cost of benefits for this smaller group of employees while limiting hours for the rest?
While several ACA strategies may be employed, including better workforce management as a whole or completely outsourcing- which factors will weigh most heavily in the hearts and minds of the decision makers in your communities? How can your district avoid an “either/or” decision and leverage several strategies to help bring ACA compliance within reach of a limited budget?

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