Ray Carter | April 5, 2019

Survey: Oklahoma voters support providing liability insurance for teachers

Ray Carter

As legislation creating an “Educators' Professional Liability Insurance Program” for teachers and other school employees winds its way through the Legislature, a new poll shows broad public support for the proposal.

Senate Bill 750 and House Bill 1985 would both create an “Educators' Professional Liability Insurance Program” that would provide state-funded coverage for up to $2 million in liability insurance for teachers as an add-on to their payment package. Under the bills, the state would be required to appropriate money to cover the cost of teachers’ insurance. A fiscal analysis of the House bill pegged its cost at about $168,675 annually.

While state law already protects teachers from being held personally liable for actions taken in the normal course of employment, teachers are still vulnerable to being sued individually in some instances. For example, if a teacher breaks up a fight between students, that could violate some school districts’ policies and potentially leave the teacher exposed to an individual lawsuit should the family of one of the fighting students choose to sue.

Under SB 750 and HB 1985, state government would purchase liability policies to protect teachers from such incidents. A new poll finds Oklahoma voters are strongly supportive of the concept.

That survey, conducted of 500 likely Oklahoma voters by Cor Strategies in late March, noted that state governments in Florida and Tennessee provide state-funded liability insurance to teachers, saying this “automatically protects school personnel from liability for monetary damages and the costs of defending themselves from claims arising out of professional activities.” The poll then asked if voters would support “providing Oklahoma’s teachers and other education employees with a state-provided liability insurance policy.”

The poll found 61 percent of Oklahoma voters support the plan. Not quite 25 percent were opposed. Support among public-sector union households was virtually identical, landing at 60 percent. The poll found the proposal was slightly more popular with Democrats than Republicans. The survey showed nearly 65 percent of Democrats support the proposal, but support among Republican was still a robust 60 percent. Independents were the least supportive at just under 56 percent.

Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, is an author of both bills and a former teacher. During his years as an educator, Bergstrom said the possibility of being sued was something he and colleagues thought about, and he’s not surprised the insurance proposal has broad public support.

“Teachers I’ve talked to have been supportive of it,” he said. “I haven’t had a single teacher tell me that they didn’t want this.”

Bergstrom said he’s been told many districts already carry additional liability insurance policies to protect teachers, but said the bill would still benefit those schools and educators.

“What this bill would do is provide a large risk pool where every school employee in the state would be covered, and we would be able to do it at a much lower rate than individual schools, particularly small schools,” he said.

By reducing costs, the legislation would free up funds at those schools that could then be used for classroom expenses, he said.

While HB 1985 passed the House of Representatives on a 77-15 vote, it stalled in a Senate committee. SB 750, which passed the Senate on a 26-17 vote, currently awaits a vote in the House Insurance Committee.

“This is just one more way to show educators that we’re trying to have their back,” Bergstrom said.

The survey was commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, parent organization of the Center for Independent Journalism.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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