By Sandy Baringer
Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside) has introduced a third bill, AB1856, to raise the cap on part-time faculty employment in the community colleges from 67% to 85%.
The first attempt, AB897, passed the Assembly early in 2020 but never made it out of the Senate. A similar bill, AB375, passed both houses in 2021 but was vetoed by Governor Newsom due to objections from the Chancellor’s office based on a projection of up to $400 million in increased costs in health insurance premiums for part-time faculty, and promised in his veto message to pursue health insurance funding in the next budget. CFT President Jeffrey Freitas called this cost projection “grossly overestimated.”
More health insurance coverage is a good thing, however, and maybe by the time the dust settles, part-timers can both get increased teaching loads and health insurance. The Chancellor’s office requested a $300 million budget increase to the Part-Time Faculty Health Insurance Fund, and Governor Newsom included $200 million in the January budget proposal. Shortly thereafter, Medina introduced AB1586, a CFT-sponsored bill, making it one of CFT’s top seven bills prioritized for passage this session.
The Part-Time Faculty Health Insurance Fund provides 50% matching funds to districts to provide health insurance to part-timers, so the budget increase is not a complete fix to what the Chancellor’s office will claim the cost of AB1856 will be, but it is a reasonable response to the objection raised. Meanwhile, CFT has launched an all-out statewide campaign to secure health insurance for part-time faculty, announced in October 2021 with the hiring of full-time staffer Chase Golding to lead the project.
The cost estimate on health insurance premiums was based on some dubious math. Under the Affordable Care Act, most employers need to provide health insurance options for employees who work over 30 hours per week. Federal regulations implemented in 2014 provided a suggested definition of workload for part-time higher education instruction with a 2.25 multiplier, i.e. 1 ¼ hours of prep and grading for every classroom hour, plus an hour per week for meeting with students or other staff. Under the proposed legislation, on a campus where 15 credit hours is considered a full-time teaching load, a part-timer could teach only three 3-credit courses under the 67% cap, but would be able to teach four 3-credit courses under an 85% cap (12 credit hours, an 80% full-time equivalent). Likewise, a part-timer could teach three 4-credit courses instead of only two.
An 85% fte load would be very unusual, but a large number of part-timers could increase from 60% fte or 53.3% fte to 80% fte by teaching 12 credit hours, i.e. 12 hours in the classroom. Applying the 2.25 + 1 hr multiplier to 12 classroom hours gives 28 hours of work per week – which would not trigger a health insurance requirement under the federal ACA rules.
So, how did the Chancellor’s office come up with a $400 million cost projection? Part of it was by factoring in extra paid office hours that are provided in some districts. There are also lab and vocational courses that require more contact hours per credit hour than the standard academic courses, but it’s questionable whether the 2.25 multiplier should apply to these courses, given that the federal rules allow for other “reasonable methods” of crediting hours of service per week. In any case, the health insurance requirement would affect far fewer part-timers than implied, and the cost impact would be far less than the projection.
In the CSUs and UCs, non-tenure track teaching faculty are not limited by law from full-time appointments, though job security and sufficient loads are still problematic. Part-time activists from CPFA, CCC/CFT, CCA/CTA, FACCC, and independent community college unions have been fighting for years to raise the statutory cap in the Education Code (EERA). The first such bill, AB591, was passed in 2008, raising the cap from 60% to 67% as a hard-fought compromise with at least one union leader who opposed raising it to 80%. That bill was introduced by Mervyn Dymally, since deceased, who served in several elective offices, including lieutenant governor in the 1970s, over the course of his long and distinguished career. Jose Medina has been very consistent and persistent in his advocacy on this issue since he was first elected to the 61st district position in 2012, and he serves as chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee.
Sandy Baringer is retired from teaching writing courses at the University of California, Riverside and Palomar College. Sandy is one of the founders of CPFA and she served on the Executive Council for a number of years.