Veteran NC teacher questions Treasurer Dale Folwell’s plan to switch state health plan administrator

According to this Raleigh News & Observer article, we’ll find out over a year from now before fall open enrollment in 2024 just what the change in health plan administration from Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC to Aetna will cost members in terms of plan benefits, coverage, access to current providers, treatment paths, etc.

It’s concerning that the “lower cost” claim details supposedly part of this agreement will not be shared with state health plan members for over a year. The delay in detail is particularly perplexing especially since Treasurer Dale Folwell referenced the pursuit of additional “transparency” as one of the motivating factors for the change.

The last time Folwell disrupted state employee and teacher health plan prospects was in 2019 when he issued an ultimatum to health care providers to either accept his lower reimbursement rates through his “Clear Pricing Project” or be kicked out of the state health plan network. At the time, I expressed concern over this showdown that risked jeopardizing over 700,000 people’s health care access in this original post and in NC Policy Watch here.

The recent revelation that the state health plan will have a new company administering claims in order to save around 1% ($140 million saved on $17.5 billion in costs) doesn’t seem to be a strong enough justification to shake up administration companies and leave members wondering for nearly two years what their health coverage and costs will look like under Aetna.

Given his failure to follow his own investment plan for the state pension while bragging about cost savings (saving on fees by not investing money), it’s no surprise Folwell would see no issue with shaking up 700,000 people’s health coverage for a 1% savings.

If the Treasurer is so confident there will be additional savings based on the contract offered to Aetna, he should be transparent and share those details to address members’ legitimate concerns. Based on this article in the News & Observer, it seems those details have not yet been worked out.

In 2019 when state health plan members desperately sought an amenable resolution to the Clear Pricing Project showdown, a reporter asked Folwell to respond to plan members’ concerns. His opaque reply: “Stay tuned.”

There’s speculation that the change from BCBS NC to Aetna may be in retribution for BCBS not meeting Folwell’s price transparency expectations. Folwell has a history of spite when he doesn’t get his way – I have a bogus cease and desist letter from the Treasurer’s office in response to my advocacy during the Clear Pricing Project fiasco to prove it.

Over half of US states have laws related to health care price transparency. Instead of trying to single-handedly manhandle health plan administrators a few years after he tried to manhandle health care providers in 2019 with the “Clear Pricing Project,” Folwell could use his platform to encourage the NC General Assembly to pass a health care price transparency law. That could help all North Carolinians, not just state employees, and would prevent future draconian efforts by Treasurer Folwell to disrupt health care in the name of “transparency” for those who teach, protect and serve our state.

I’ll continue to follow and the developments of the health plan administration change, and begin to share more about pension concerns I’ve expressed with others over the last two years during public comment of the Investment Advisory Committee meetings. To borrow a phrase from Treasurer Folwell…

stay tuned.

Kim Mackey is a veteran Wake County public school teacher who comments on public policy at the website educatED Policy, where this commentary was first published.

On teaching schoolchildren about race in America: When we know better, we do better

Image: AdobeStock

Politicians confuse guilt with empathy. What they can learn from a 6-year-old and 1776.

A few years ago when my son was learning about the Civil Rights Movement, he offered his class the recent example of the Black man at Starbucks who was arrested after trying to use the bathroom.

He told me about this on our car ride home but I didn’t know where my six-year-old heard about that incident. When I asked him, he said he heard it on the news I was watching.  Even our kindergartners are flies on the walls soaking in information.

When my kindergartner processed that event on his own, he didn’t identify with the white employee and feel guilty. He identified with the Black man who needed to use the bathroom and felt empathy.

I don’t want politicians to interfere and tell him he came to the wrong conclusion.

As a veteran social studies teacher, and mom of two young students, I’m baffled by some folks’ resistance to teach the past and the present honestly.

Those supporting state bills challenging the teaching of honest history would do well to consult the Declaration of Independence, where a large section of that document is devoted to listing historical grievances.

Our grievances from the Declaration of Independence are rectified and enshrined in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

This historical pattern of expressing grievances then celebrating remedies we work together to achieve is how Americans “form a more perfect union.”

For all the times I’ve taught the Declaration of Independence, I’ve never heard from a family whose ancestors lived in Britain in 1776 that this content made their child feel guilty.

When we teach honest history and honest present, we teach empathy and growth, not guilt.

About ten years ago in my middle school world history class, I welcomed a new student from China mid-year. Shortly after his arrival I was set to teach a lesson on Tiananmen Square, which many know is an ugly historical event censored in China.

Out of empathy, I worried about adding to this student’s culture shock by exposing him to this event. After consulting with colleagues I did not censor the event from this student since I would be perpetuating China’s censorship in my American classroom. There were no complaints from the student or his family after that age-appropriate lesson.

When we know better, we do better. Folks trying to stop kids from knowing better are also interfering with their ability to do better as they fulfill the American call to “form a more perfect union.”

When politicians claim that honest history will lead to “psychological distress” (such as HB 324 in North Carolina) they’re saying students will respond with guilt, not empathy. They’re wrong.

Our students would be better served in alleviating “psychological distress” by those same legislators offering more student support staff such as psychologists, social workers, nurses, counselors, and smaller class sizes.

In North Carolina, the same legislators wanting to micromanage school curriculum continue to ignore our state’s constitutional obligation to provide a “sound basic education” to every student as reaffirmed in the 1997 Leandro decision which has yet to be fulfilled over twenty years later.

Legislators’ obsession with curriculum is a distraction from holding lawmakers accountable for what students actually need.

Efforts to vilify educators, and censor our past and present are more reflective of history’s most notorious authoritarian rulers.

We must call on our state legislators and school boards to allow our students to grow with facts and empathy when learning about our past and present.

Our educators understand how to provide age-appropriate instruction. Our policy makers should focus on how they can best support that effort.

Kim Mackey is a National Board Certified social studies teacher for the Wake County Public School System and an active member of Wake NCAE, and Advisory Board member of Red 4 Ed NC. This post appeared originally on her website, educatEDpolicy.

As he recovers, let’s hope Treasurer Folwell urges North Carolinians to work together by keeping apart

After five days of hospitalization for treatment of COVID-19, North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell has, thankfully, been released from the hospital. News reports indicate that he will continue to recover from home.

While all of us are grateful for the Treasurer’s recovery, I can’t help but wonder: would my 8-year-old asthmatic son survive such a diagnosis? Would my mother, who consistently struggles with respiratory issues, be as fortunate? Would she have access to a ventilator if it were necessary?

I want to see my students, who are seniors in high school, have the opportunity to walk across the stage.  I want to see my own son walk. I want his grandmother to be there.

While it’s tempting to simply let this matter drop given the unfortunate personal suffering Treasurer Folwell has had to endure, the fact remains that this is the same man who, in his role as leader of the State Health Plan, has admonished state employees and educators to be “watchdogs” and take “control of your medical costs – Be a smart health care consumer” so as not to unnecessarily and irresponsibly burden taxpayers.

Many people have been unduly complacent when it comes to social distancing and heeding the directives of public health experts during the current crisis, but when one of those people is an important state leader – especially one responsible for overseeing the State Health Plan – it merits additional scrutiny.

Where did Treasurer Folwell go when he proceeded with a “long-planned trip with his son” in the midst of a global pandemic?

Just how many people did he expose to the virus when he still showed up to work while displaying symptoms, including the reporters with whom he met to discuss the economic impacts on the State Retirement Plan? Three of his staff members have since been diagnosed with the illness. Did they contract it from their boss?

Treasurer Folwell is also the person who launched the controversial “Clear Pricing Project” – an effort that ended up placing over 700,000 state and public school employees, retirees, and their dependents in an uncomfortable “no man’s land” last year as he tried to force hospitals, like the hospital at which he was treated for COVID-19, to adopt a transparent and reduced pricing schedule. His insistence on transparency should not be limited to the places he seeks care, but should also apply to sharing more details about his trip that perhaps initiated his need for care.

In 2018, Treasurer Folwell reformatted the health insurance cards of state employees and educators to read “Paid for by YOU and other NC Taxpayers.” It would have been nice if he had taken his own words into account throughout his recent series of questionable choices.

To be fair, there was no “stay at home” directive when Treasurer Folwell chose to travel with his son, but the COVID-19 crisis had erupted worldwide and had already established a firm beachhead in the United States. It should not have taken an explicit order from our government for a top public official to act responsibly for himself, his staff, and for the residents of the state he was elected to serve.

For someone who has dedicated much of his political career to championing small government and personal responsibility, and whose job it is to manage risk, the hypocrisy of these lapses in judgement cannot go unchallenged, and is consistent with Folwell’s calls for transparency and watchdogs.

Let’s hope he is soon fully recovered and able to deliver a message urging all North Carolinians to take seriously the need for us to work together by keeping apart.

Stay home folks.

Kim Mackey is a veteran Wake County public school teacher and the author of the blog educatED Policy.

In mock college application essay, NC teacher explains how state leaders are failing our kids

Students succeed in spite of state education policy, not because of it

Students across North Carolina are working on their college applications.  If I were one of them, this would be my response to a common application prompt:

Common App Prompt #2

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Many obstacles I encountered throughout my education were put there by those whose job it is to support me, my school, and my community. The overarching obstacle I have faced is overlooking all the ways my state government has tried to tell me I am failing, along with my classmates, teachers and school.

I tried finding my favorite English teacher to help me with this essay, but she left teaching for a job outside of education. She was great. I had hoped my younger brother would have her.

I’m still trying to figure out who can write recommendation letters for me. My club advisor from last year moved to teach in another state. I’m sure she would have written a great recommendation, but I don’t know how to get in touch with her. My counselor will write one, but her caseload is 350 students even though the national recommendation is 250.

When adjusted for inflation, the state invested more money per student when I started Kindergarten than it currently funds per student in my last year of high school. We’re still waiting on a bipartisan compromise budget from our state leaders for this school year.

Can we close the per pupil funding gap before I graduate? Or are tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthy an obstacle to making that happen?

Most recently, I received a printout of my state math test results (just in time to write my college admission essay!) The letter accompanying the results said that I am not “on track for career and college readiness.”  I guess I should stop writing this essay.

Instead it has offered yet another example of the attempts to say that I am not good enough, and neither are my teachers or school. 75% of my peers throughout the state (many now applying to college or preparing for the military or workforce) have now just been told we are not “on track.”

Does our state truly believe that 75% of us are not ready for college or the workforce? If so, it seems obstacles must be removed by activating these policies:

  • Restore per pupil funding to the same level as when I entered Kindergarten.
  • Build more brick and mortar classrooms to accommodate smaller class sizes so students and teachers can more closely work together.
  • Provide students with actual textbooks to take home.
  • Value teachers as experts who create innovative lessons and personalize learning for their students instead of paying for scripted lessons, software, and screens from “education entrepreneurs” motivated by personal profit.
  • Welcome back 7,400 teaching assistant positions to develop math and literacy skills with people instead of software.
  • Restore extra pay for a Master’s degree and improve overall pay so teachers stay in the profession long enough to become experienced and mentor incoming teachers.
  • Stop unfairly labeling students, teachers, and schools as “failing” or “not on track for career and college readiness” as they succeed in spite of state policy and labeling, not because of it.

Looking at the conference budget, it appears you still refuse to do these things even when public school supporters took to the streets for two years in a row.

I guess I’ll have to work to undo those obstacles for those who graduate after me.  I don’t want my younger siblings, or my future children to have reason to write this same essay.  See you at the polls.


A member of the NC Class of 2020

This appeared originally on Mackey’s blog educatED policy.