Education Life

I Have a Master’s Degree and I Can’t Afford Health Care

I have a Master’s degree, yet I can’t afford my family’s health care expenses.

You may be thinking, So what?  Big deal — you have a Master’s degree.  Having a Master’s degree doesn’t entitle you to free health care.  You’re right.  It doesn’t entitle me to anything, really.

Except when it should.

I am a teacher, and deciding to pursue that career was 1 part family legacy and 9 parts desire for economic stability as an adult while doing something I love.  My mother was a teacher and is currently an administrator, which is what probably pushed me in the direction of teaching to begin with.  But the ability to live a comfortable — not extravagant, but comfortable — lifestyle is ultimately what sealed the deal for me.

I remember having to declare my major as a 17 year old college freshman.  My dad wanted me to become an orthodontist.

“See that classic sports car in the parking lot?” he’d say.  “I paid for that.  Best part of the job is, you barely have to even put your hands in patients’ mouths.  That’s for the technicians to do.  What more could you want in a career?”

He was right.  I could have become an orthodontist, had a fancy sports car in my country club driveway, and barely had to get my hands dirty in the process.  Sure, I’d have had to go through a lot of years of school with mounting debt, but I’ve already done that as a teacher, and I sure as hell don’t have a fancy sports car to show for it.

Instead, I chose to be a teacher because my work would have meaning to me and I would be guaranteed a comfortable salary with reliable health care (yes, I actually based my major at 17 on whether or not I would have reliable health care as an adult; this is not an exaggeration).

What a crock of shit that idea was.

In the past few years, Governor Rick Snyder and his Republican, big business cohorts have made it their mission to strip funding from Michigan’s public schools in order to push their privatized, profit-driven charter school agenda.  President Obama and his Democratic cronies have unleashed Race to the Top, a slightly less aggressive way to destroy public education by testing kids to death and basing teachers’ salaries on the results.  And bi-partisan politicians nationwide have either spearheaded or jumped on similar bandwagons in their respective states and communities, stripping much-needed funding from public school districts and damaging educational integrity and the teaching profession as a whole in the process.

The result?

A bunch of kids who can’t think beyond the parameters of a standardized test and the dwindling livelihood of the people charged with enacting these misguided policies all while trying their best to convince policymakers with zero educational background or experience that what they’re doing is detrimental to the future of American education.

Never mind how these people are royally screwing our children with their test, test, test bullshit.  I’ve already spoken out against that until I was blue in the face.  Right now I’m talking about my own ability to provide my family with the most basic of care.

I can’t afford my kid’s AFO — an orthotic he requires to learn to walk properly because of his cerebral palsy, a result of him having had a stroke in utero.  I also can’t afford his physical and occupational therapy appointments.  We’re so indebted to the company that provides these therapies, I’m afraid that at one of his upcoming appointments they’ll refuse to return him to our care and hold him as collateral in a damp, dark room until we pay up.  And just today, I received our dental bill, only about 1/8 of which insurance will cover.

FANTASTIC.  And these are just the tip of a rapidly growing iceberg.

Why?  Because in a desperate attempt to maintain enough money to keep school running, school districts — my husband’s (also a teacher) and mine included — have had to lower our salaries (including decreasing salary raises for newer employees), which includes offering less and less health care coverage with a higher deductible (because health care is part of a teacher’s bargained salary).


Admittedly, I’m writing this piece in a post-bill-opening-rage, so I won’t argue that my points are somewhat laced with fury and self-pity, but the fact of the matter remains: When I decided to go into this profession, it was with the understanding that my hard work and extensive educational pursuits would allow me to raise a family without going bankrupt.

When I agreed to take the undergraduate classes and pay for and take the certification tests and participate in the field work and pay for and complete the year-long unpaid internship and purchase the teaching license, it was under the assumption that I would eventually be able to pay rent like any other college-educated professional.

When I agreed to pursue and pay for my Master’s degree out of my own damn pocket because renewal of my teaching certificate depended on it, it was under the assumption that my salary would steadily, albeit minimally, increase so I could eventually pay that debt off (as could my husband, whose swelling student loan debt, coupled with mine, is going to land us with busted kneecaps soon, I’m sure of it).

When I devoted my life to something I both enjoy and find critical to our community and country, it was with the understanding that I would not struggle.  I would not own a beach house in the Keys, but I would not struggle, and I certainly would be able to afford no frills dental care for my kids.

I have a Master’s degree — one that was required to continue in my career*, one I paid for by taking out student loans, one I worked hard and sacrificed time with my family for, and one I cannot pay off — yet I can’t afford my family’s health care.

I just want to be able to pay for my family’s health care.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask.  I think I deserve at least that much.

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*Since earning my Master’s degree, the state of Michigan has changed its rules so that teachers in need of certificate renewal can now use professional development credits they earn freely through their school districts instead of having to pay for them through an institution of higher learning.  Granted, they’d have to attend every professional development seminar offered from the time they’re first employed until the time renewal is due to ever have enough, but that’s now an option.