Meeting on Thursday afternoon, Arkansas lawmakers pushed a spending bill from the state’s surplus out of committee as part of a short-term fix to an insurance deficit in the public school employees insurance fund.

The fund is $53 million in the red and legislators are working on bills that would shore up the funding gap, raise teacher insurance premiums by 10% and address long-term solutions to remedy the financial gap.

House Speaker Davy Carter (R-Cabot) told reporters Thursday to expect a “rapid paced session” designed to offset the nearly 50% increase to premiums for nearly 47,000 workers in the public school employee health insurance plan.

“I support those efforts in that core package dealing with the teacher insurance,” Carter said. “Does anybody like it that we’re in this position? Absolutely no. I don’t like having to do this, having to spend the money to do it, but you can’t ignore it.”

The Joint Budget Committee endorsed using $43 million from the state’s accumulated surplus to help close the funding gap in the insurance program.

Legislators will debate a round of bills tomorrow in both chambers and in the insurance and education committees that address property taxes, millages, teacher professional development, and board membership on the oversight board for the insurance fund.

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