Category Archives: TRS

Why March 6 Matters: Retirement

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at your retirement.

Everyone who decides to become an educator enters into a special agreement with the State of Texas. It goes something like this: If you devote your life to preparing our children for the future, Texas promises to be there for you when you retire at the end of a long career of service.

Only that promise is constantly under attack.

Let’s start with some basics. Your retirement is administered by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), which oversees the pension trust fund. The state and individual educators each contribute to the fund, and a team of professional staff supervise a diverse investment portfolio that makes up the body of the fund. These full-time agency employees ensure the fund’s health and safety. After paying for the cost of administration and benefits, the money from those investments is plowed right back into the fund.

TRS is structured as a “defined benefit” retirement plan, which means that an individual who pays into the plan is guaranteed a set amount of money each month in retirement that will last for the rest of his or her life. The more common type of retirement plan is a “defined contribution” plan, such as a 401(k). Unlike the promise of a stable monthly pension check upon retirement offered by a defined benefit plan, a defined contribution plan promises merely a set contribution into an employee’s retirement account while the individual is actively working. Investment returns on that account are subject to the whims of the market. The level of retirement that can be provided by those funds at the end of an educator’s career is not guaranteed. Under a defined contribution scenario, there is a real threat that a retired educator may outlive the retirement funds accumulated during his or her career, and end up with nowhere to turn for help — not even Social Security.

You may have noticed that most businesses in the private sector have gone the defined contribution route. The reason is largely because 401(k) plans are cheaper and don’t require dedicated staff to administer. Most are run for a profit by large Wall Street corporations, and advisers often have a financial stake in the investments they recommend. This leaves plenty of opportunities for others to make money, but little guarantee of stable retirement income for the retiree. The defined benefit plan administered by TRS is, by contrast, of great value to retirees, who can rest easier knowing that they will receive a guaranteed income for as long as they are alive.

As with most big pots of public money, the TRS pension fund has unfortunately become the focus of those looking to brag about shrinking government while making a few bucks for their friends.

In 2017, the Texas Senate confirmed Josh McGee as chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board (PRB), which oversees state pension systems including TRS. Prior to being appointed to that position by Gov. Greg Abbott, McGee worked as a professional advocate for converting public pensions to defined contribution plans that would reduce the money guaranteed to retirees, and his position at the helm of PRB naturally raised alarm bells.

Adding to the concern, lawmakers have filed a number of bills in 2017 and in prior legislative sessions that would likewise weaken TRS. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) – who made headlines recently with his objections to efforts to improve voter turnout among educators – filed a pair of bills last year aimed at converting TRS from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan or a hybrid of the two. Both bills died without a hearing, fortunately, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is keeping the idea alive as part of his interim charges for the Texas Senate to study before the legislature reconvenes in 2019.

Most troubling is recent news from the TRS Board of Trustees that it intends to vote to lower the assumed rate of return for the $147 billion pension fund from 8.0 percent down to 7.25 percent. The decision was based on observations of current market forces, and while fiscally prudent, it radically changes the plan’s outlook on paper. Like all pension plans, the TRS fund must be considered solvent before the legislature or board can consider any potential increases in benefits. With the lower assumed rate of return, TRS will head into the 2019 legislative session needing an additional $1.5 billion for future solvency, and they’ll be asking for that money from lawmakers who frequently are looking to cut spending, not increase it.

Politicians like Sen. Bettencourt frame their attacks on educators’ pensions by claiming the defined benefit structure is too expensive for the state to maintain into the future. In fact, the state’s share of an educator’s pension (at 6.8 percent) is less than half the teacher retirement contribution rate set by the next lowest state that is not paying into Social Security. The truth is that a more conservative assumed rate of return, coupled with a proper contribution rate, will guarantee TRS stays healthy well into the future.

The bottom line: Like public education as a whole, Texas gets a phenomenal bargain for what it spends, but more funding is necessary to fully realize the implicit promise made to educators.

Lawmakers will face tremendous pressure in 2019 from investors and politicians who want to gamble with teachers’ retirement. Unless Texans elect more pro-public education lawmakers and statewide elected officials, the legislature may very well look to your pension as an area to further cut corners. Texas will only keep its promise to educators if lawmakers respect educators’ voices at the polls in this pivotal election year.

Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on educators’ retirement and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election taking place now. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 16, 2018

Here’s ATPE’s wrap-up of education news developments this week:

ELECTION UPDATE: Tuesday, Feb. 20, marks the start of early voting for the March 6 primary elections. ATPE is urging all educators and registered voters in Texas to participate in the primaries, where most of Texas’s elected offices are filled. For more tips on when and where to vote, check out this blog post from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz.

We’ve known for a long time that educators have power to use their numbers to influence the outcomes of these pivotal primaries. Now it’s becoming clear that some politicians and special interest groups are very worried about the potential for high voter turnout within the education community. With enthusiasm growing among grassroots groups like Texans for Public Education, which is promoting a #blockvote campaign to elect pro-public education lawmakers in the Republican primary, some elected officials facing primary challengers are taking to the airwaves in a last-ditch effort to tout their own records on education. For example, the Texas Tribune reports that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick spent $5.1 million in January for television ads, amounting to roughly one-third of his campaign war chest. Several of the lieutenant governor’s ads, both on tv and radio, feature claims about support for public education and efforts to raise teachers’ salaries by $10,000, but many are questioning the veracity of the ads in light of failed leadership-backed bills last session that called for much lower pay increases, which school districts would have been forced to fund without new or additional money from the state.

Another group aiming to influence these elections is the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is proud to be a member. We are continuing our efforts to get out the vote, despite disturbing attempts by some in power to intimidate school leaders and shut down our nonpartisan initiatives. This week, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued cease and desist letters to three school districts, alleging that their leaders had used school district resources for “unlawful electioneering.” The basis for the threatening letters from the AG’s office appears to be a handful of Twitter posts and retweets, which likely involved no expenditure of school district funds, and some districts’ adoption of our coalition’s nonpartisan resolution promoting a “culture of voting,” which obviously does not advocate in any way for specific candidates or ballot measures.

ATPE is dismayed that school board members and administrators are being unfairly targeted for efforts to encourage educators to vote, and that support for public education in general is now being characterized by some elected officials as a “partisan” endeavor. ATPE is not alone in objecting to the witch hunt; Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) this week wrote back to AG Paxton asking him to withdraw the cease and desist letters. In his letter, Sen. Menendez wrote, “As elected officials,… our role includes urging people to vote, not intimidating them from participating in this highly regarded democratic process.” Menendez further suggested that intervention by the federal Department of Justice might become necessary.

We at ATPE have worked along with other members of the Texas Educators Vote coalition to help educators understand the restrictions on using school district resources for political advertising, and we believe that most, if not all, school officials have complied with the law. It is not illegal for individual educators to endorse candidates, and there is nothing partisan or illegal about encouraging school employees to vote and to support the cause of public education. We hope that Texas voters will not be deterred by the efforts of a few politicians and dark money groups to keep educators from exercising their constitutional right, and we encourage the school community to  continue spreading the word about the importance of the 2018 elections. Most importantly, get out and vote early next week!


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees has been meeting in Edinburg, Texas this week. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that the board has been discussing a change to the retirement fund’s assumed rate of return, which will have a significant impact on the future of the fund and budget discussions when the legislature returns in January 2019.

For more on the implications of these changes, read Exter’s blog post this week about the additional funding that TRS will be needing and why the upcoming primary elections will have so much impact on active and retired teachers’ pensions and healthcare.

On Friday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that it will be extending to Tuesday, February 20, the deadline for members of the public to participate in a survey regarding its corrective action plan for special education.

In January, TEA released the initial draft of a plan to make good on the state’s legal obligation to serve all students with special needs. The U.S. Department of Education ordered the state to take corrective action after an investigation by the Houston Chronicle revealed that the state had wrongfully denied special education services to thousands of Texas children through the enforcement of a de facto cap on the number of students allowed to participate.

Members of the public are encouraged to review the four-point plan and submit feedback by taking an online survey available on the TEA website. The survey was originally scheduled to close Sunday, February 18, but the agency announced Friday that survey responses will be accepted through Tuesday, February 20. According to the TEA, the survey takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

Once public comments have been received, a revised draft plan will be posted and open to additional feedback in March.

President Trump released his 2019 federal budget proposal this week, which highlight’s the president’s priorities before lawmakers begin work on the actual budget in Congress.

Much like last year’s budget request, Trump’s 2019 budget proposal requests a big chunk of funding for public and private school choice, maintains funding levels for Title I and special education, and seeks large cuts to hand-chosen K-12 programs within the Department of Education (ED). Read more about the president’s proposal in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

TRS board discusses future shortfalls as critical primary election looms

I was listening to a retired educator testify before the TRS board at their annual board retreat this morning. She expressed that retirees are scared about increasing healthcare premiums and upcoming changes that will greatly impact the actuarial picture of the pension fund. She also asked for TRS to advocate on behalf of retirees in dealing with the legislature. It was moving testimony. However, I wish she and all educators, active and retired, would shift their mentality from scared to angry and look not to TRS to take care of them next session, but instead look to themselves to be their own best advocates, at the polls where these decisions are really made.

The reality is TRS is an administrative agency, and while the TRS staff does a phenomenal job, their job is to implement the legislature’s will, NOT to lobby the legislature on behalf of TRS members. In fact, all state agency staff, TRS staff included, are prohibited by state law from engaging in lobbying efforts.

TRS has hard days ahead. If the defined benefit pension system or TRS-provided retiree healthcare are going to continue to exist, active teachers and retired teachers alike will have to use their voices not only at the capitol but also at the polls.

What are the factors that underpin this bleak reality?

First, TRS is set to drop its assumed rate of return from 8 percent to 7.25 percent. This one action, at least on paper, will make the fund go from healthy to anything but. There is already extreme pressure from Wall Street money managers and the politicians willing to work on their behalf to convert TRS to a 401(k) style system off of which they could make huge profits. Without other changes offsetting the drop to 7.25, this pressure will likely increase exponentially as the pension fund will look considerably more vulnerable going forward.

Second, despite the draconian changes to TRS-Care coming out of the last legislature, the retiree health insurance system, as it stands today, still is not financial sustainable. And the issues with retiree health care don’t even take into account the significant health insurance burden on active teachers, which is forcing many of them out of the education profession.

Sometimes there are smart policy initiatives that can solve statewide challenges with little or only indirect additional costs. The challenges facing TRS are NOT those kinds of challenges. The truth is that the state has for years gotten by knowingly underfunding both the pension trust fund and the retiree healthcare trust fund. On the pension side, in fact, the state’s share of an educator’s pension (at 6.8 percent) is less than half the teacher retirement system contribution rate set by the next lowest state not paying into Social Security.

Texas has now reached a point where getting by on barebones funding can no longer happen – not  if we want to continue providing teachers with a pension or retiree health insurance. What has changed?

As stated above, in response to long term market trends and despite best-in-class fund management by TRS staff, the agency is expected to reduce the assumed rate of return on the fund to 7.25 percent, down from 8 percent. This change will increase the pension’s unfunded liability by $10 billion and raise its funding period from just over 30 years to a whopping 86 years. (Anything under a 30-year funding period is considered actuarially sound, and for TRS the 30-year period has been linked to providing cost of living increases (COLAs) for retirees.) At 8 percent there was an expectation that the fund would be in a position to offer a COLA within the next few years, at 7.25 percent the fund would not be considered healthy enough to offer retirees a COLA for at least the next 56 years.
In order to offset the adjustment to the assumed rate of return, the TRS pension fund’s contribution rate will need to be increased enough to generate an additional $1.4 to 1.6 billion per biennium.

TRS must be honest and stay above political bias or pressure in setting its estimated rate of return. In truth, a lower assumed rate of return, as long as it is coupled with a proper contribution rate, will produce a healthier pension system in the long run. However, because it is up to the legislature and not TRS to adjust the contribution rate, it is vital that the agency be diligent and expedient in communicating to its members the realities and potential consequences of a decision to adjust the fund’s assumed rate of return.

In addition to needing $1.5 billion or more in new pension contributions, TRS will also need substantial additional dollars just to sustain TRS-Care at the new 2018 levels. In all, TRS estimates that it will be asking the legislature to appropriate between 2 and 2.5 billion additional dollars next biennium. Lobbyists for each of the four statewide educators groups (including ATPE), the retired educators group, and a group representing school districts, when given the opportunity to comment, expressed their belief that such an ask would be a complete non-starter with the current group of legislators, particularly the Governor, Lt Governor, and the majority of Texas Senate.

Without substantial additional funds; TRS-Care will quickly go bankrupt and cease to exist. Active teachers’ health insurance costs will continue to rise unchecked pushing more and more good teachers out of the profession, and the TRS pension fund will be on a certain path toward being abolished. That is the very likely future, unless retired and active educators alike decide to make their voices heard at the polls this election year. Early voting starts Tuesday, Feb 20, and runs through Friday, March 2. Election day is Tuesday, March 6. With over one million active and retired education professionals in the state of Texas, the question is not whether you can save your retirement, fix your health insurance, and improve public education policy for 5.4 million students in this state. No, the only question is – will you?

Important update on TRS retiree healthcare

ATPE has just received the following announcement from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) regarding participants, members, or their dependents who originally terminated coverage with TRS-Care between July 1, 2017- January 1, 2018, but want to return.

For more information please visit the TRS Website of contact TRS at 1-888-237-6762.

From TRS:
2018 TRS-Care Plan Changes Grace Period

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) has received a number of requests from TRS-Care participants who terminated health plan coverage but want to return to TRS-Care.

Under TRS plan rules, retirees and dependents who terminate coverage cannot return to TRS-Care unless they experience a rare special enrollment event. However, TRS understands that there may be some individuals who did not wish to leave TRS-Care, or who now wish to reverse their decision and re-enroll.

Therefore, TRS is offering a one-time grace period until February 28, 2018 to allow former TRS-Care participants to re-enroll in TRS-Care if they terminated coverage or dropped a dependent due to the 2018 plan changes.

Who can re-enroll in TRS-Care during the grace period:

To be eligible for this grace period, participants must have a TRS-Care termination date of July 1, 2017 through January 1, 2018.

This is not an opportunity to add new dependents. You can only reinstate dependents that were previously covered under TRS-Care and were terminated from TRS-Care coverage between July 1, 2017 and January 1, 2018.

Steps to take to re-enroll:

To re-enroll with TRS-Care, please submit a signed application for TRS-Care. Your application must be post-marked no later than February 28, 2018. Your coverage will be effective the first day of the month following the time we receive your application.

Please note that if you submit your application near the end of the month, there may be a delay until TRS can make your coverage retroactively effective. Please submit your application as soon as possible.

If you wish to re-enroll in TRS-Care, please complete the application that applies to you based on your Medicare status, and sign and return the application to TRS postmarked no later than February 28, 2018.

There are two versions of the application—one for participants with Medicare and one for retirees without Medicare.

Please refer to the following link on the TRS website for more information.

Congress releases final tax bill

The U.S. House and Senate have finalized a conference tax bill that is expected to be voted on by each body over the course of next week. After the individual chambers passed their own bills pertaining to reforming provisions of the current tax code, a conference committee was appointed to work out the differences in the bills. The final bill must now receive the support of both chambers and the signature of the president before it becomes law.

ATPE wrote members of the Texas delegation last week to urge members of the conference committee and leaders in both chambers to stand with teachers on two issues: maintaining a credit for educators who spend personal money on classroom supplies and omitting a potential new tax on investments of public employee pensions like the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas. ATPE is pleased to report that the final bill reflects our requests on both issues.

The educator expense deduction was maintained at up to $250 a year, giving educators who use money from their own paychecks a nominal but meaningful credit for at least a portion of what is spent to give all students and classrooms access to needed supplies. The House bill originally scrapped the deduction altogether, while the Senate bill doubled the max deduction to as much as $500.

The Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), as it related to public pensions, was ultimately scrapped under the final bill. The House bill would have applied the tax to public pension investments, including the TRS trust fund, which could have weakened its financial soundness by subjecting it to new additional tax liability. The Senate’s bill did not apply the new tax to public pension investments.

Another issue that garnered significant attention was a provision termed to be one aimed at “school choice” and was included in varying forms under both bills. The Senate’s provision on the topic was added in the final hours of debate by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). The final bill includes a negotiated version of the provision, which expands spending eligibility for 529 college savings accounts. If the bill becomes law, parents will be able to use the money they’ve saved in a 529 account to pay for up to $10,000 a year in K-12 education expenses, including at private schools.

ATPE appreciates the conference committee’s final decision on both the educator expense deduction and the UBIT. We also appreciate the help of legislators and leaders who advocated on behalf educators. High-profile provisions of the final plan include a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, a smaller top tax rate for individuals (at 37 percent instead of just under 40), omission of the Obamacare-era tax fine for those who don’t buy health insurance, and a cap on the deduction of state and local taxes (SALT) at $10,000.

TRS Annual Review

Each year the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) puts out an annual review of both the TRS Pension Fund and the TRS health care systems / trust funds which they present to the TRS Board members.

The TRS health care update this year is focused on an in-depth analysis of the changes from the 2017 Care and ActiveCare plans to those going into effect during the 2018 plan year, as a result of legislative action during 85th regular and special sessions. ATPE has reported a number of times on the TRS-Care and ActiveCare changes as they have unfolded. The changes to TRS are set to take effect Jan 1, 2018.

TRS has produced two helpful videos to help explain the new insurance program, one for participants who are Medicare eligible and another for participants who are non-Medicare.

You can click the link here to view the full TRS health care document produced by TRS.

The Board also received its annual review on the health of the TRS pension trust fund, including a preview of some major actions the staff intends to undertake in the coming year. The review of the pension fund was a much rosier conversation in the recent past than the health care discussion, but the board is planning to undergo an experience study in early 2018 that could present some new long term challenges if it results in lowering the assumed return of the fund.

The headline from the pension report is the TRS Trust Fund earned a return of 12.9% and ended the 2017 fiscal year at a market value of $147 billion compared to a market value of $134 billion for the fiscal year ending 8/31/16.

Results of the 8/31/17 valuation and comparisons to the 8/31/16 valuation are summarized below:

The strength of the previous year raises the fund’s 10-year return to over 8%, and the fund’s returns since inception (approximately thirty years) continue to exceed 8% as well.

Despite TRS’s exceeding the assumed rate of return during both of these time frames, there is a strong expectation that external consultants who will perform the experience study in early 2018 will come back with a strong recommendation to lower the assumed rate of return for the fund from 8% to somewhere in the neighborhood of 7.5%. The result of such a move, in isolation, is to dramatically increase the unfunded liability of the fund on paper, which also increases the number of years required to fully fund the pension. Under the state’s definition of actuarial soundness, the funding window must be less than 30 years to consider the fund actuarially sound for purposes of increasing retiree benefits, such as by providing retirees with a cost of living adjustment (COLA).

Should TRS ultimately lower the assumed rate of return, it will be incumbent upon the agency, active and retired teachers, and those groups that represent them to impress upon the legislature the absolute necessity of increasing TRS funding to make up for the assumed loss of investment income. The amount of new funding needed to offset a decrease in the assumed rate from 8% to 7.5% will be approximately $800 million per biennium.

You can click the link here to view the full TRS Pensions document produced by TRS.

ATPE weighs in as Congress hashes out differences on tax bill

Over the weekend, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.5 trillion tax bill designed by the upper chamber’s Republican leaders. The measure passed largely on a party line vote, with just one Republican joining Democrats in opposition, and it comes after the U.S. House passed its own version of a bill to reform the tax code last month. Now, the Senate and House must reconcile their respective differences and develop a bill that can pass both chambers before it heads to President Trump for his signature.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote members of the Texas Congressional delegation to weigh in on two provisions in the House and Senate bills that affect educators and their classrooms. The first pertains to the educator expense deduction, which currently allows educators to deduct up to $250 dollars from their tax bills when personal money is spent on classroom supplies and materials. The bill passed by the House eliminates the deduction altogether, while the Senate’s bill increases the deduction to up to $500.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday

“While not the ideal approach to filling budget shortfalls or equalizing access to supplies and materials among students,” Canaday writes, “the deduction offers some form of reimbursement to educators who dip into their own pockets to purchase materials for students, classrooms, and schools that might otherwise go without.”

The second issue ATPE highlighted in its letter to Texas members of Congress involves the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The House tax bill would apply a new tax, the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), to public pension investments, including the TRS trust fund.

“Weakening the financial soundness of the TRS trust fund by subjecting it to new additional tax liability on the front end, in addition to the taxes already paid by individual retirees, is a cost that neither the State of Texas nor the teachers who spent their working years serving our state can afford,” wrote Canaday.

In both instances, ATPE asks members of the Texas delegation to encourage House and Senate leaders and other members of Congress currently negotiating a final bill to retain the Senate approach: doubling the Educator Expense Deduction (or, at a minimum, maintaining the current $250 deduction) and forgoing the inclusion of language applying the UBIT to public pension investments.

Read the full letter here, and check back for more as the U.S. Congress continues its work to reform elements of current U.S. tax law.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 27, 2017

Here’s this week’s round-up of education news from the ATPE lobby team:

ATPE state officers met with Speaker Joe Straus in March 2017.

ATPE state officers with Speaker Joe Straus in March 2017

Texas political circles were shaken up this week by a pair of election announcements from top leaders in the Texas House of Representatives.

First came a surprise announcement on Wednesday that House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) will not seek reelection in 2018. The news of the departure of the popular house speaker was a disappointment to many in the public education community who appreciated his rational approach to leading the Texas House and willingness to prioritize school needs over divisive ideological battles.

ATPE state officers met with Rep. Byron Cook in Feb. 2017.

ATPE state officers with Rep. Byron Cook in Feb. 2017

Straus’s announcement was followed by a similar one from Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) on the same day. Cook, who has chaired the powerful House State Affairs Committee and the newly created House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness, similarly announced that he will step down at the end of his current term.

For more on Wednesday’s big announcements, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was in Dallas yesterday for a stakeholder meeting regarding data collection for educator preparation in Texas. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) partnered with Educate Texas and other entities to solicit input and recommendations on data the agency collects to assess and improve educator preparation programs (EPPS) across Texas. A bill passed earlier this year during the 85th regular legislative session, Senate Bill (SB) 1839, added new requirements to data collection for EPPs. The work to solicit input will help guide the agency and the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) as they work to implement the new law.

As Kuhlmann reports, teachers, school districts, EPP representatives, and other engaged stakeholders convened in Dallas this week to consider and identify data that would would offer transparency for candidates considering future programs, provide diagnostic value to programs, and improve upon current data used to hold programs accountable. All agreed that a focus should be placed on presenting the data in a more easily accessible manner, such as a user-friendly online dashboard. Participants also agreed that the presentation of such data should include differentiated interfacing specific to consumers (future EPP candidates and the general public), school districts, and EPPs.

Yesterday’s meeting was the second of four scheduled stakeholder meetings. Two more will be held next week in Lubbock and Austin. The TEA, under the direction of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), will also convene a formal stakeholder committee to make recommendations on the matter and is reaching out to various standing committees for input. The agency expects to begin discussion on next steps for implementing recommendations at SBEC’s March 2018 meeting, once the initial stakeholder input has been collected. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.


TRS logoToday, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees is meeting in Austin, where ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is attending and has contributed the following report on the meeting:

The TRS Board of Directors convened today for a short meeting. After taking brief public testimony, they received an update from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie, which focused primarily on administrative housekeeping with regard to the agendas of future meetings. Guthrie did drop one bomb during his update, informing the board that there has been some discussion in Washington of reclassifying the contributions to retirement systems like TRS such that they would no longer be tax-deferred. Such a move would be a monumental policy shift dramatically impacting both educators and the pension fund itself.

After Guthrie’s comments, the board received its first update on the TRS Enterprise Application Modernization or (TEAM) program since the go live date on which we’ve previously reported. The transition has not been without the “hiccups” that accompany any such major technology transition, but the new system is stable and operational and the transition has been mostly smooth.

Next, the board worked its way through a series of administrative items before taking up proposed rules on 403(b) vendor rates. There has been significant back and forth between the board and a large segment of the 403(b) vendor community with regard to these rule changes. Many vendors acknowledge that the rules have been significantly improved, from their perspective, throughout the process. That said, most vendors still do not favor the new rules. Despite the board’s adoption of the rules, many expect this issue to remain a topic of discussion for the 86th legislature in 2019.

Finally, the board received its first overview presentation on the TRS experience study the board will undertake early next year. The experience study will help the board set many of the assumptions that are used to determine the actuarial health of the pension fund. The actuarial picture of a fund can help lawmakers makers determine contribution rates and is often used by anti-pension advocates to push for abandonment of defined-benefit pension plans based on their unfunded liabilities. Additionally, in the case of TRS, the actuarial soundness as defined by a funding horizon of less than 31 years is what allows TRS to give a COLA to retirees.

The last TRS board meeting of 2017 will be in December, and the first board meeting of 2018 will be a board retreat scheduled to commence on Valentine’s Day, February 14th.


Interim charges have now been released for both House and Senate committees to study in preparation for the 2019 legislative session. The charges issued by House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick direct standing committees in the House and Senate, respectively, to convene hearings and gather feedback from stakeholders on hot topics expected to be debated by the 86th legislature.

Rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Harvey are among the numerous charges for multiple committees, but there are also several directives that focus specifically on public education. The Senate Education Committee, for instance, will study such issues as teacher compensation, virtual learning, student discipline, dual credit, and school choice. The House Public Education  Committee is tasked with studying teacher retention, educating students with disabilities, charter school laws, and ways to assess student performance other than using standardized test scores. Other committees will examine public pension systems and the TRS healthcare programs for educators.

Read more about the House interim charges here and Senate interim charges here. ATPE’s lobbyists will be covering all of the education-related interim hearings and providing updates here on our Teach the Vote blog and on Twitter.


DNA_4w2U8AARK-pOne week of early voting remains for the Nov. 7 constitutional amendment election. As part of our work with the Texas Educators Vote coalition to create a culture of voting in the education community, ATPE urges our members and all other registered voters to participate in this and all elections. Early voting runs through Friday, Nov. 3. The Texas Secretary of State also declared today, Oct. 27, as #StudentVotingDay, encouraging eligible high school students who registered to vote to get out and cast their ballots today. Learn more about what’s on the Nov. 7 ballot and how to be an engaged voter in this ATPE Blog post.



Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 22, 2017

Here’s a look at the week’s education news stories from the ATPE lobby team:


The board of trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) met this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings and provided this report for our blog, summarizing the board’s discussions about data system upgrades and possible future actions pertaining to retire/rehire policies for educators and the assumed rate of return associated with the pension fund.


TEA_assessmentsThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been busy rolling out new STAAR testing resources for educators and parents. Its website offers tools and data for parents, teachers, and administrators to help understand and analyze information related to the state’s standardized testing system. This week, TEA made available to educators the ability to view sample reports that parents can access for their children. The goal is to help teachers provide guidance to their students’ parents who may have questions about the STAAR reports. For more information on the new resources, check out this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


This weekend, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins is attending the Texas Tribune’s annual TribFest. Learn more about the education-related panel discussions that are taking place at the festival in this blog post from Mark. ATPE’s Governmental Relations staff members are also out on the road this weekend attending ATPE meetings in Regions 12 and 14, with many more scheduled in the next few weeks. Learn more about these events in today’s blog post from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz.



Summary of third-quarter TRS board meeting

TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas held its quarterly board meeting this week in Austin on Thursday, Sept. 21, and Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. You can watch video of the board meeting here, as well as review the board agenda and board book.

The TRS board received its final update on the TEAM project prior to the upcoming go live date. As we have reported previously on our blog, TEAM is the agency’s ongoing project to update its computer infrastructure and data systems. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie reported that everything continues to be a go for the transition to the new system, which is scheduled to go live on Oct. 2. At the next meeting, the board will receive a report on the transition from the legacy system to the new system and the transition from working on phase one of the TEAM project to working on phase two.

In a subsequent agenda item, Guthrie laid out several of his policy goals for the upcoming year. Included in those Guthrie would like to look into significantly streamlining the retire/rehire rules for educators. There are always pros and cons to any changes made to the retire/rehire rules, and advocacy groups including ATPE will stay closely involved during the process to ensure that the rules produce the best results possible for individual educators while also ensuring the overall health of the retirement fund. Additionally, TRS is set to undertake the process of completing an updated experience study, a process utilizing a third-party vendor to analyze the assumptions TRS uses to determine its actuarial numbers. TRS staff expects to complete the study by February and present findings to the TRS board for discussion at the February board retreat.

ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyConducting an experience study and reconsidering the TRS assumptions, including the assumed rate of return, is a significant action for the TRS board and agency. The assumptions combined with the actual assets on hand are what TRS uses to determine the funding window and overall actuarial soundness of the pension fund. Lowering the assumed rate of return without increasing the contribution rate will significantly increase the funding window, or number of years required to fully cover pension liabilities. Under law the fund cannot be considered actuarially sound if the window is greater than 30 years. Currently the fund is just over the 30 year mark but is trending in the right direction. Lowering the assumed rate of return even slightly will add years, as many as five to 10, to the funding window. TRS’s current assumed rate of return is 8 percent. Despite the fact that TRS has a one-year rate of return at 12.9 percent, a five-year rate of return at 8.9 percent, and a 26-year rate of return at 8.7 percent, there is significant pressure, including political and peer pressure, to lower the investment return assumption. ERS recently underwent a similar process that resulted in that fund’s rate of return being lowered from 8 percent down to 7.5 percent.

Any degradation of TRS’s actuarial soundness will undoubtedly result in new calls from some advocates and state lawmakers who oppose government-funded pensions for TRS to be converted from a defined-benefit pension system into a defined-contribution 401(k)-style plan.

In addition to the meeting of the full TRS board, various sub-committees also met this week. Of particular note, the TRS policy committee made changes to a number of TRS rules, many in response to legislative changes from the 85th legislative session that just went into effect on Sept. 1, 2017. You can review the list of rules affected on the Policy Committee Agenda or take a closer look at the rules in the Policy Committee Book.

Other committees that met this week included the following with links to their materials:

  • TRS Investment Management Committee – Agenda and Book;
  • TRS Risk Management Committee – Agenda and Book;
  • TRS Compensation Committee – Agenda and Book; and
  • TRS Audit Committee – Agenda and Book

The next TRS board meeting will be a one-day meeting on October 27, 2017. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.