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AISD to extend benefits to domestic partners

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Just a few months after Pflugerville ISD announced the district would offer domestic partner benefits, Austin ISD has made plans to offer benefits to domestic partners starting next school year.

"We just simply believe that it's the right thing to do," said Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen. "Our family units in Austin are very diverse. They basically reflect the kind of diverse student body we have and therefore we know our families need diversity of choices within insurance plans in order to serve them well as employees"

Carstarphen says district officials have been discussing the change to the district's insurance plan for several years, but are finally able to fit it into the budget. She estimates a few hundred of the district's employees will take advantage of the benefits, costing the district an additional $600,000.

Ken Zarifis, President of Education Austin, which represents AISD employees, says he worked closely with the district on the decision, "We believe it's important that everyone has an opportunity for healthcare. We don't believe it matters who you love, just that you're healthy and productive and have the opportunity for healthcare for everyone."

Those who oppose offering domestic partner benefits say it is against the Texas Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

"The Texas Constitution is very clear on this issue that you cannot have something that is similar to marriage and try to do that and get government support," said Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values. "AISD has put themselves into legal jeopardy and I think at the end of the day it's going to cost them"

Carstarphen tells FOX 7 at this point, the district has no plans to back off the decision, saying, "We're a public school system. We're not here to judge. We accept every employee, student, parent that walks through our school house gates for who and what they are."

Texas State Representative Drew Springer (R- District 68) has filed a bill to cut off healthcare funding for school districts that offer domestic partner benefits. Tuesday, he released a statement saying, "HB 1568 is about protecting the Texas Constitution and ensuring that our education dollars go towards educating our kids."

The Texas Attorney General has been asked to give his decision on whether local government entities can offer domestic partner benefits.

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