Saying that a uniform health insurance plan for teachers would save Minnesota schools $190 million in 3 1/2 years, the Education Minnesota teachers union Friday urged Gov. Tim Pawlenty to sign such a system into law.

Union leaders have been pushing a statewide teacher insurance pool for several years. The proposal was approved by the Legislature in 2007 and 2008 but was vetoed by Pawlenty each time. The House and Senate passed a similar proposal again this week; Pawlenty has indicated he will veto it.

"At a time when schools are scratching for every dollar, this bill is a lifeline," Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said at a news conference. "This bill saves schools money without cutting a single education program or eliminating any schoolroom jobs. "

Union officials cited a March report by Minnesota Management & Budget as the basis for their savings estimate. That report, however, noted that the savings estimate represents a "best case scenario," and said that different scenarios could raise or lower statewide insurance costs under the plan by 10 percent.

Pawlenty, in a letter written to bill authors in March, said the measure would not result in health cost savings and "does not address the real issues driving health care costs."

Dooher said Friday that something has to be done to rein in skyrocketing insurance costs. Union officials say a statewide pool would lower costs because it would spread out the risk over a greater number of employees.

"Minnesota schools, like everyone else, are suffering under outrageous increases in the cost of health insurance," Dooher said. "This is a major threat to education in Minnesota. Districts that can't afford to offer decent health insurance will find it difficult to attract and retain quality teachers."

Not everyone finds the idea of uniform teacher health insurance so appealing.

Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, said the plan would hurt many of his districts.

"Our analysis tells us that metro school districts will be losers under the proposal," said Croonquist, whose organization represents numerous Twin Cities school districts.

Croonquist said that a similar system was tried in Oregon, but that "two years into a uniform health plan for school employees, and no savings have materialized. ... They've been looking at double-digit premium increases in many cases, and it just has not lived up to its promises."

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547