OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Frank Keating on Wednesday signed into law legislation that provides another $35 million to pay the cost of health insurance for teachers and other public school workers.
Educators said the measure will help Oklahoma stay competitive with teacher benefit packages offered in other states by paying a higher percentage of the health insurance costs of teachers and school support personnel.
``This will help us keep teachers,'' said Randall Raburn, executive director of the Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administration and a former head of the Oklahoma Education Coalition.
Raburn said securing more funds for teacher health insurance was the coalition's top goal for the legislative session. He said teachers are being lured to other states by salaries and benefits that are higher than that offered in Oklahoma.
``I think it was the most important piece of legislation this session,'' said Rep. Kenneth Corn, D-Howe, the measure's author.
``I think we addressed a major crisis in Oklahoma. We're losing our best and brightest teachers to other states because we're not competitive.''
State and local school districts currently pay about 50 percent of the health insurance costs for teachers and 90 percent for support personnel.
The measure signed by Keating increases the level of support to 75 percent for teachers and 100 percent for support personnel, effective with the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The support level for teachers will increase to 100 percent, effective July 1, 2003, at a cost of about $52 million.
The current state contribution of $69.71 a month would go to $132.13 under the measure. In 2004, it would go to $227.82, or 100 percent of the current total cost.
The bill, House Bill 1968, is named the Larry Dickerson Education Flexible Benefits Allowance Act in honor of the late Sen. Larry Dickerson, D-Poteau, the original Senate author. Dickerson died in March after a long battle with cancer.
``Larry was my partner in trying to pass this plan,'' Corn said. ``It's appropriate that we name a piece of legislation after him. He really knows what it mean to have health insurance and be able to see a doctor.''
The measure is one of 18 bills that Keating signed. Another, House Bill 2316, prohibits the possession or sale of products containing pseudoephedrine with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine or another controlled substance.