Tag Archives: pensions

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.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 10, 2016

These are stories making news this week in the Texas education world:


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting this week with possible changes to educator preparation and certification rules on the agenda. On Thursday, the board held a work session to consider the role of educator preparation programs (EPPs), the educator preparation experience through both traditional and alternative EPPs, national trends, and other matters relating to educator preparation and certification.

SBEC is holding its regular board meeting today, and the agenda includes anticipated rule changes for the criteria to enter an EPP, as well as the ways that EPPs are held accountable. Another agenda item calls for a new format for the Core Subjects EC-6 certification exam. TEA staff has recommended removing one of the five domains currently covered by the test to focus on the core subjects of English Language Arts and Reading, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. SBEC will also discuss possible changes to the Educators’ Code of Ethics and disciplinary rules, which will encompass tweaks to existing rules against inappropriate teacher-student relationships.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is attending both of the SBEC meetings this week and will provide a full report for Teach the Vote.

Related content: SBEC’s review of educator disciplinary rules comes at a time when there is great media interest in stories about educators engaging in inappropriate relationships with students. Recent interim legislative hearings have also drawn attention to the issue. This week, ATPE Media Relations Specialist Stephanie Jacksis spoke to both KVUE News in Austin and Fox29 in San Antonio about the problem and ways teachers can separate their personal and professional use of social media.

 


Josh Sanderson

We’ve been writing about the Texas Supreme Court’s recent decision on school finance and how some lawmakers are looking at ways to tweak the funding system in light of the court’s finding that the system barely meets constitutional standards. Last week, ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson was a special guest on Time Warner Cable’s Capital Tonight program talking about the challenges inherent in the current school funding system. This week, Josh also spoke to KVUE News about a related topic: comparing how schools spend the money they receive. A new website established by former state Comptroller Susan Combs seeks to provide Texans with tools to do just that, but much of the school performance data on the website is focused on student test scores. Watch video of Josh’s interview with KVUE’s Mark Wiggins here.

 


Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundWe reported last week on some of the recounts that have been sought following the May 24 primary runoff elections. First, Rep. Wayne Smith‘s (R-Baytown) recount request was not fruitful, as the recount confirmed his loss to challenger Briscoe Cain (R) by only about two dozen votes. This week, we await updates in another recount underway in House District 54 for the seat being vacated by current House Public Education Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen). In that race, Killeen mayor Scott Cosper (R) defeated Austin Ruiz (R) on runoff election night by 43 votes. We’ll bring you the results of that recount as soon as they are announced. Follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments.

 


Do you work in a school district that is pursuing a designation as a District of Innovation (DOI)? Keep in mind that ATPE has a resource page to help educators and parents learn about the new DOI law, which allows certain acceptably-rated districts to exempt themselves from various state laws. Many districts in Texas are already taking steps to create and adopt innovation plans. The exemptions most commonly claimed so far include the school start date law – with districts looking to start the school year earlier in August – along with requirements for the assignment of certified teachers, class-size limits in elementary grades, and teacher evaluation requirements. Visit ATPE’s newly updated DOI resource page to learn more and read examples of some districts that are using the DOI statute to avail themselves of exemptions from these and other laws.

 


Monday, June 13, is shaping up to be a busy day. First, the House Pensions Committee is holding an interim meeting in Houston. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson will be there and will provide updates next week on the retirement matters discussed. Also on Monday, the Texas Education Agency will hold a public hearing on proposed rule changes for the Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS). Last but not least, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability has scheduled a final work session to develop its recommendations to the 85th Legislature. The commission’s gathering is an add-on meeting not originally planned, but as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported recently on our blog, commission members have struggled to reach consensus on a number of issues related to testing and accountability measures. Watch for updates next week on the commission’s deliberations.


16_Web_SummitSpotlightDon’t forget to register for the ATPE Summit, taking place July 20-22 in Austin, where you can earn valuable professional development credits and learn more about hot issues affecting public education. Learn more at ATPESummit.org

Your benefits: Social Security update

Texas public school employees are among a unique group of public servants subject to a set of provisions in federal law very few people ever come in contact with, and even fewer actually know much about. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) affects spousal benefits, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) alters the calculation of personal Social Security benefits. Both of these laws generally apply to those who are eligible for a government pension based on employment where they did not contribute to Social Security.

Godsey, Wiggins, Brady, Colby, and Gregg

ATPE visited Washington, D.C. recently to discuss Social Security legislation. Pictured (left to right) are ATPE’s Executive Director Gary Godsey, State Past President Richard Wiggins, Congressman Kevin Brady, State President Cory Colby, and Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg.

ATPE has long worked to repeal both of these provisions, the GPO and the WEP, in federal law. We have been successful in helping to get legislation filed and supported by a majority of U.S. House members in several Congresses. However, the cost of completely repealing the GPO and WEP has proven to be prohibitive, and no federal legislation that would repeal either provision has ever been successful.

Recently, ATPE has worked alongside the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) and Texas Congressman Kevin Brady (R) to pursue legislation that would repeal the existing arbitrary WEP formula and replace it with one that actually reflects the contributions employees have made to Social Security. Brady’s Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2015 (H.R. 711) would create a new formula to reduce the punitive effects of the WEP by up to one-third (an average of $1,034 per year) for current retirees and as much as one-half ($1,620 per year on average) for future retirees.  A bipartisan list of 40 congressmen has signed on to cosponsor H.R. 711, which has no cost to the Social Security Trust Fund. Considering that no WEP-related legislation that would benefit employees has ever gained momentum in the past, this is a very significant step forward toward increasing public school employees’ benefits.

Unfortunately, one of the largest national teachers unions recently made the decision to oppose H.R. 711 claiming the rationale that Brady’s legislation does not achieve full repeal of the WEP. While we do agree that full repeal would be preferred, ATPE believes it is a mistake to ignore the political realities that have stalled legislation to achieve that goal for far too long. Continuing to insist on full repeal or nothing at all is done at the peril of those who are affected by the WEP. Any realistic improvement that will increase educator Social Security benefits is much-welcomed, and as such we at ATPE will work to see that those benefits are increased in any way possible while maintaining the long-term goal of fully repealing both the WEP and GPO.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act, as well as other legislation that affects public education.

Legislative Update: TX Congressman pursues Social Security fix, NCLB talks continue in Washington, plus more TX Legislature news

Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has re-filed his “Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act” this week. H.R. 711 is a bill to address the controversial Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) in federal law that reduces the amount of Social Security benefits some educators may receive. As we reported when it was first introduced in November, Brady’s legislation would replace the WEP’s arbitrary and punitive formula with a revised calculation of benefits and result in a significant benefit increase for numerous retirees. ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association have worked closely with Congressman Brady on this proposed legislation. Read our most recent letter in support of the bill, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as we work to get the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act passed.


Congress continues to discuss reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). There is strong bipartisan support for giving states more spending flexibility and room to construct their own policies around issues such as accountability system designs, educator qualifications, and evaluations. Despite the public backlash over standardized testing, many in Congress still favor keeping the requirement for annual testing of most students, which is expected to be the key focus of the ongoing debates.

ATPE has submitted testimony to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in conjunction with its recent hearings, entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability” and “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders.” We also weighed in on the discussion draft of a reauthorization bill proposed by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), deemed the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015.” Earlier this week, the Senate committee also hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Innovation to Better Meet the Needs of Students.” Testimony included a discussion of various innovative ideas that have been tested in schools around the nation, including alternatives to traditional school environments, professional learning communities for teachers, improving students’ morale in order to foster discipline, blended learning models, and dropout prevention strategies.

On the House side, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has filed another proposal to reauthorize ESEA/NCLB. The bill is H.R. 5, coauthored by Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), and known as the “Student Success Act.” It is a revival of a 2013 House proposal that similarly aims to give states more control over school accountability and funding decisions, while also promoting charter school expansion. Kline’s bill is scheduled for a committee markup on Wednesday, Feb. 11. Watch for additional information about the House proposal on Teach the Vote next week.


As we reported Wednesdaythis week, members of the Texas House of Representatives learned their committee assignments for the 84th session. While the House Public Education Committee chairmanship remained unchanged from last session, there are some new faces heading other important committees that handle education-related bills. Rep. John Otto (R–Dayton), an accountant by profession, takes over the House Appropriations Committee, which has budget oversight. Speaker of the House Joe Straus also tapped Rep. Dan Flynn (R–Van) to chair the House Pensions Committee, which oversees matters related to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE looks forward to working with all the new and returning chairs this session.


Early voting begins Monday for special election runoffs in four legislative districts with vacancies. Voters in House Districts 13, 17, and 123, along with Senate District 26, are urged to familiarize themselves with the candidates and cast an early vote. Visit our 2014 Races pages to view profiles of the candidates.

TTV

Interim charges for House committees released

Earlier today, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R–San Antonio) issued interim charges—topics legislative committees are asked to study and report on before the next legislative session begins in January 2015—to the 83rd Legislature.

The charges to the House Public Education Committee are as follows:

1. Monitor the implementation of House Bill 5 (83R) and report on recommendations for improvement. Work with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the State Board of Education (SBOE), and public and higher education stakeholders to ensure the creation of additional rigorous mathematics and science courses needed to address the current and projected needs of the state’s workforce.

2. Explore innovative, research-based options for improving student achievement beyond standardized test scores. Evaluate standards for effective campus management as well as teacher preparation, certification and training. Review current teacher evaluation tools and instructional methods, such as project-based learning, and recommend any improvements that would promote improved student achievement. Engage stakeholders on how to recruit and retain more of our “best and brightest” into the teaching profession.

3. Solicit input from leading authorities on the traits and characteristics of good governance, effective checks and balances between the board and administration and the effective relationship between a board and the superintendent. Review current oversight authority by TEA over school board policies on governance. Make recommendations on trustee training, potential sanctions and means of grievances, as well as recommendations on whether the role of trustee or superintendent needs to be more clearly defined.

4. Review successful strategies and methods that have improved student achievement at chronically underperforming schools. Identify alternatives that could be offered to current students who are attending these schools and determine how to turn these schools around. Identify the benefits and concerns with alternative governance of underperforming schools.

5. Review the broad scope and breadth of the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) in the tested grades, including the format, testing calendar and the limitation on instructional days available. Recommend options to streamline the assessment of TEKS and focus on core concepts. Review current federal testing requirements in grades 3–8 to determine if testing relief is possible.

6. Examine the role of the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) in serving school districts. Review the programs and services of HCDE, specifically the department’s ability to assist school districts to operate more efficiently. Report any costs or savings the HCDE provides districts and taxpayers. Make recommendations to improve the operation of the HCDE.

7. Review the state regulatory and administrative systems related to public school bond issuances. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Investments and Financial Services.)

8. Study the impact of Senate Bill (SB) 393 (83R) and SB 1114 (83R). Assess the impact of school discipline and school-based policing on referrals to the municipal, justice and juvenile courts, and identify judicial policies or initiatives designed to reduce referrals without having a negative impact on school safety. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Corrections.)

9. Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 83rd Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:

a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;

b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy or eliminate;

c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and

d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.

The charges for the House Appropriations Committee include reviewing public education funding formulas. The Appropriations and Pensions Committees will jointly study the fiscal impact of TRS-Care and health care affordability for public school employees.

View the entire packet of House interim charges.