The Austin Independent School District is extending health insurance benefits to same-sex couples and unmarried domestic partners within the year.
The decision comes after Pflugerville became the first Texas school district to offer health benefits for its employees with same sex partners last fall.
AISD expects a couple hundred employees to use the expanded health benefits at an estimated cost of $600-thousand dollars a year. AISD has already allocated the money in this year’s budget.
Superintendent Meria Carstarphen says at this point it’s unclear how the district would verify that people are domestic partners. She says right now the focus is to enhance the lives of district employees as much as possible.
“It’s not a political issue for us," Carstarphen said at a press briefing Tuesday. "It’s not anything we think about more than we think about diversity of our students and what’s right for what they need to have a successful life and experience as an employee of our district.”
Chuck Smith with the pro-gay rights group Equality Texas says there is some economic benefit, too.
“Both business and school districts want to value their employees and they want to be competitive, and, in this instance, school districts want to get and keep the best teachers," Smith said.
Opponents say the move violates federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from offering benefits to same sex couples. That law is the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court challenge this week.
Last month, Republican State Representative Drew Springer introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature that would cut health care funding for school districts that expand health insurance to same sex couples.