Tag Archives: TRS

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 18, 2017

Here’s your post-special session edition of ATPE’s Teach the Vote weekly wrap-up:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelTuesday night marked the end of the 85th Legislature’s special session, and ATPE is pleased that a number of anti-public education proposals were defeated. The legislature declined to grant Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for a private school voucher program for students with special needs, opting instead to fund state grant programs that will aid public school students with autism, dyslexia, and other challenges. Also blocked were discriminatory bills to take away educators’ access to payroll deduction for their association dues. ATPE is thankful for the educators who called and wrote to their lawmakers or visited the capitol to take a stand for educators having the same rights as other public employees and being able to continue to manage their own money as they choose.

The special session also resulted in some gains for public education through the passage of House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). Although the Senate would not agree to the $1.8 billion in additional public school funding that the House approved or to tapping into the state’s rainy day fund, the final bill does add $563 million over and above the budget passed by lawmakers during the regular session. That extra money will help some districts facing the loss of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) funds this year, provide assistance for charter school facilities, and significantly, inject $212 million into the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators. The Senate rejected any long-term structural changes to our school finance system, which were favored by the House, but they included language in HB 21 to create a school finance commission that will study the issue over the next two years.

The Senate approved its version of HB 21 by a vote of 25 to 6 late Monday night. The House voted 94 to 46 to accept the Senate’s version of HB 21 Tuesday evening, with a number of representatives expressing disappointment that the bill did not do more, and many who stated they were reluctantly voting for it in the interest of preserving some modest gains for the schools in their districts. Shortly thereafter, the House surprised many by adjourning sine die upon a motion by Chairman Huberty, one day before the expiration of the 30-day special session. The Senate similarly adjourned sine die a few hours later after declining to accept a House version of a property tax bill. In a press conference late that night, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was quick to blame the House and its leadership, including Speaker Joe Straus, for preventing more of the governor’s special session agenda from being passed. For his part, Gov. Abbott similarly complained that the House had obstructed bills, despite the fact that legislators gave final approval to bills covering half the items on the governor’s special session call.

With the governor’s signature on the bill, the next step for HB 21 will be for the Commissioner of Education and TRS board to propose and adopt rules implementing various aspects of the law. (Read more about the TRS-Care changes being considered next week in the next section of today’s wrap-up.) We’ll keep you posted on all the rulemaking developments and let you know how you can provide input to state policymakers during that process here on Teach the Vote.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey said in a press statement, “We appreciate those in the legislature who fought for additional funding and structural improvements to our school finance system. ATPE looks forward to working with lawmakers during the interim to recommend longer-term solutions that will help all Texas students excel and enable us to recruit, reward, and retain the best educators in our public schools.”

 


Drugs and MoneyThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees will be meeting next Friday, Aug. 25, to consider changes to the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators. As noted above, the passage of HB 21 during the special session means that TRS will have an extra $212 million this biennium to offset rising costs of TRS-Care. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has been attending meetings with TRS staff to learn how the additional money will be used to help retired teachers. Check out his blog post for more on the specific changes the TRS board is expected to adopt next week.

 


tea-logo-header-2On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency announced the 2017 accountability ratings for school districts and campuses. The overwhelming majority of schools (95 percent) earned a “Met Standard” rating this year, and there were fewer campuses receiving an “Improvement Required” rating in 2017. Final 2017 ratings will be shared in December following an appeal period for schools seeking to change their ratings.

View the complete accountability ratings on the TEA website here. ATPE congratulates the students and staff of all our high-achieving public schools!

 


During the special session, ATPE's Governmental Relations staff presented House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed by the ATPE House of Delegates in July.

During the special session, ATPE’s Governmental Relations staff presented Texas House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed by the ATPE House of Delegates in July.

 

TRS to vote on changes to retiree healthcare plan next week

Drugs and MoneyIf you are a retired educator or someone planning to retire soon from the profession, you’ll be interested in next week’s meeting of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees. The board will meet Friday, Aug. 25, to discuss and adopt modifications to the TRS-Care healthcare program for retirees.

As we reported on Teach the Vote back in June, TRS recently announced several changes to the design of its healthcare plans after the legislature failed to completely fill a funding shortfall during the regular session. But in response to outcries from educators, legislators convinced Gov. Greg Abbott to add retiree healthcare costs to his call for the special session that ended Tuesday. The legislature passed House Bill 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty during special session that will funnel $212 million in additional money to TRS for healthcare.

TRS logoThe attached document from TRS staff provides details on plan changes that TRS board members are expected to adopt next week. Changes to TRS-Care will go into effect on Jan 1, 2018.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 4, 2017

Here’s a look at this week’s education news as reported by the ATPE lobby team:


The Texas House passed several bills relating to school funding and narrowly rejected a bill to extend payments to some districts today on the floor.

Most importantly, the House passed school finance House Bill (HB) 21, which would put an additional $1.8 billion into the public school system. The bill would raise the basic allotment to $5,350 from $5,140, provide $200 million hardship grants to districts losing additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR), expand career and technology education (CTE) allotment funds to the eight grade, and increase weighted funding for dyslexia and bilingual education. This legislation was killed by the Senate during the regular session after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick refused to allow a school finance bill to pass without a voucher attached. Earlier this week, the committee reconsidered HB 21 in order to remove controversial charter school facilities funding that had been attached to the bill filed at the beginning of the special session. The House also passed HB 30, which would pay for HB 21 by deferring payments to school districts through the Foundation School Program (FSP).

“This bill is the most important legislation, I believe, we’re debating during this session,” House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told members on the House floor.

The House also approved HB 23, which would create a grant program for students with autism and related disorders. The House voted down HB 22, which would extend ASATR funding for an additional biennium. Some school districts which rely heavily upon ASATR funding have warned they may have to close schools once the funds expire this year. After initially passing on a vote of 73 to 70, HB 22 was voted down 67 to 61 after a vote verification was requested.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended the meeting and provided this update on the board’s activity.

The board met to cover a fairly lengthy agenda, as it begins the process of writing rules to implement laws passed during the regular session of the legislature. Laws involving teacher misconduct, professional development, educator preparation, and more were passed and now require a sometimes lengthy process of developing and finalizing SBEC rules that reflect the new laws. While no final decisions were made with regard to new laws, the process was initiated for many and the board gave preliminary approval to a new law regarding military spouses seeking educator certification in Texas. The board also gave preliminary approval to the continuing professional education pieces of three laws involving cyber-bullying, educator misconduct, and digital literacy. Still, not all actions taken by the board were the result of changes to law. Preliminary approval was granted to a new rule proposal regarding diagnostician and counseling certification, and final approval was given to new requirements regarding English language proficiency for educator preparation candidates.

Yesterday, many of the board members also convened for a work session organized and directed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff that support the board. Staff presented items on ethics, the mission of the board, certification structure and requirements, and legal sanctions. On a few items, TEA staff sought feedback from the board that will play out in future meetings. Those include decisions to revisit an additional route to certification for non-traditional superintendents (three already exist), add fines to sanctions regarding certain principal and superintendent reporting requirements (authority granted to them by the 85th Texas Legislature in the instance of inappropriate relationship reporting), and restructure the current Texas certification design. The latter involves the addition of the EC-3 certification required by the legislature. Staff also pressed the board to consider a multi-tiered certification structure that involves standard, accomplished, distinguished, and master certifications. The conversation was linked to implementation of performance-based assessments for certification, inclusion of national board certification, and student data.

Watch for more on all of thee topics at future meetings. The agenda for today’s meeting can be viewed here and an archived video of the meeting will be posted here.

 


Earlier this week, the Texas House voted to approve additional funding for TRS healthcare programs. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided additional information in this blog post on Tuesday.

Retirement planning written on a notepad.The two bills approved by the lower chamber, House Bill (HB) 20 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and HB 80 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), will head next to the Senate where their future is uncertain. Ashby’s HB 20 calls for pulling $212 million from the state’s rainy day fund in order provide one-time relief for retired educators who are facing higher deductibles as a result of a longtime shortfall in TRS-Care funding. The Senate has demonstrated little interest in using the rainy day fund for lowering healthcare costs or any other education-related expenses. Darby’s HB 80 would make it easier for TRS to provide its members with a cost-of-living adjustment in the future.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on both these bills in the latter part of the special session.

 


The Texas Education Agency has released its draft of a state plan for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As we reported last week, TEA is inviting stakeholders to submit their feedback on the draft plan, and, this week, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has more on the draft plan. The comment period ends Aug. 29, 2017. Comments can be submitted by email to essa@tea.texas.gov. For additional information and to view the draft ESSA plan, click here.

 


The House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting after the House adjourned Friday to strip the controversial voucher from SB 2. The committee substituted state Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R-New Boston) HB 320 into SB 2, replacing all of the language approved by the Senate. VanDeaver’s bill would create an education enhancement program for certain students with disabilities. The program would cover costs for transportation, private tutoring, educational therapies and related services for students with dyslexia, autism, speech disabilities, and learning disabilities. Program participants would continue to be public school students and would retain IDEA rights. The program would be funded at $10 million per year from the state’s general revenue fund. The bill will now head to the full House for consideration.

In addition to the substituted SB 2, the committee approved CSHB 60, HB 98, HB 145, HB 149, HB 157, HB 204, CSHB 272, HB 324, CSHB 320, and HB 232.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 4, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 4, 2017.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 28, 2017

The Texas Legislature is wrapping up its second week of a special session. Here are stories you might have missed:


During this second week of the special session, bills pertaining to teacher compensation and funding for teachers’ healthcare were on the move in both the Texas House and Senate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided the following update on their current status:

Senate Bill 19 was filed as the vehicle for the lieutenant governor’s plan to address the need for better teacher pay and funds for TRS-Care. The bill, carried by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson was heard in and passed out of her committee on Saturday. During the hearing ATPE, other teacher organizations, and individual teachers such as ATPE State Treasurer Tonja Gray all expressed strong concerns about a provision of the bill that mandated school districts to spend roughly a billion dollars statewide on teacher pay raises without providing any state funding to cover the mandate.

In addition to the unfunded mandate, SB 19 includes a one-time bonus in 2018 for teachers who have been in the classroom more than six years ($600 for teachers with 6-10 years’ service, $1000 for teachers with 11 or more years of service). The bill also includes additional funding to reduce health insurance costs for retired teachers on TRS-Care. The longevity bonus and TRS-Care portions of SB 19 are paid for during the upcoming biennium through a deferral of payments to managed care organizations (MCOs). MCOs coordinate health services for those enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP programs for low-income and disabled individuals. If finally passed, SB 19 will increase the state’s projected Medicaid shortfall, which the next legislature will have to cover, from $1.2 to 1.6 billion.

The full Senate took up SB 19 on Tuesday, July 25. Senators removed the unfunded pay raise leaving only the one-time funding for longevity bonuses and TRS-Care supplemental spending. Republican Senators rejected floor amendments by Democratic Senators Kirk Watson of Austin and Jose Menendez of San Antonio to ensure more suitable or ongoing funding beyond 2018, leaving that for a future legislature to decide whether the additional funding for teacher bonuses and TRS-Care will be continued. SB 19 was received by the House yesterday and will likely be referred to a House committee early next week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

Also happening Tuesday, July 25, the House Appropriations Committee met to hear House Bills 24, 20, 76, and 151, among others. HB 24 by Representative Drew Darby calls for giving teachers an across-the-board $1,000 pay raise. Unlike the pay increase that was ultimately removed from SB 19, Darby’s HB 24 includes three distinctive features. One, the raise would be paid for during the current biennium. HB 24 does this by calling for an appropriation from the state’s rainy day fund, or as Rep. Darby called it, the state’s “mattress fund.” Rep. Darby stated in his explanation of the bill that he felt $11 billion was too much money to keep in a mattress, and that the state should find more responsible ways to invest those funds. Second, HB 24 includes language that ensures the money appropriated will be used to supplement, not supplant, current teacher salaries and that salaries could not simply be reduced again in future years. Third, the bill would change the state salary factor funding formulas such that it would increase the state appropriation called for in the base budget for future legislatures. This does not bind future legislators, but it does create a starting point of funding the HB 24 pay raise in future years so as to better ensure that there will be state funding for the raises.

House Bills 20, 76, and 151 have been filed respectively by Representatives Trent Ashby, Drew Darby, and Lance Gooden; all call for supplemental appropriations of varying amounts for TRS-Care. HB 151 would send additional dollars form the state’s General Revenue fund, while HB 20 and HB 76 call for spending dollars out of the rainy day fund to boost TRS-Care. HB 76 and HB 151 were left pending in the committee, while HB 20 was voted out of committee favorably and is on its way to the House Calendars Committee to be scheduled for floor debate in the near future. HB 20 calls for an additional $212 million for TRS that would be used to reduce premiums and deductibles.

For a closer look at the breakdown of how SB 19 and HB 20 would be anticipated to impact TRS-Care, check out this comparison chart.

 


The Texas Senate is taking a break this weekend after working throughout last weekend and several late nights to advance a controversial agenda pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her blog post this week, the Senate passed a private school voucher bill disguised as a school funding measure in the form of Senate Bill 2, a bill dictating the policies local school boards must adopt regulating the use of bathrooms in Senate Bill 3, and the politically motivated Senate Bill 7 to prohibit educators and certain other public employees from using payroll deduction to pay their voluntary association dues, while allowing other public employee association members deemed “first responders” to continue the practice. Less controversial measures passed by the Senate included a bill that funds one-time bonuses for experienced teachers and extra money to offset increased healthcare costs for retired educators in 2018, as well as a bill appointing a state commission to study school finance between now and the next legislative session.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_StandUpPublicEdNow that several anti-public education measures have sailed through the Senate and been sent to the House, and Gov. Abbott is threatening that lawmakers who oppose his agenda will be blacklisted, now is the time for House members to hear from their own voters and especially educators. ATPE is urging its members to call and write to their state representatives urging them to oppose bills like SB 2 and SB 7 that would defund public schools and needlessly punish public school employees. Visit Advocacy Central for quick and easy tools to communicate with your lawmakers about these issues. While you’re on Advocacy Central, be sure to also check out which lawmakers are supporting bills like these and let them know you disapprove. With only a couple weeks left in the special session, it’s critical for educators to speak up now!

 


Dollar banknotes heapWhile the Senate has worked to rapidly advance the governor’s controversial agenda, the House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus has stuck to its pledge to continue working on school finance solutions during this special session. The House Public Education Committee held hearings Monday and Tuesday on a number of finance-related bills, including several that were refiled from the regular session. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended and reported on the hearings for our blog here and here.

Bills advanced by the committee included Chairman Dan Huberty’s special session versions of House Bill 21, a comprehensive school finance reform bill that would inject additional money into public schools, provide increased funding through weighted formulas for bilingual students and those with dyslexia, and offer hardship grants to certain districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) funding this year; House Bill 22 to extend ASATR; and House Bill 23 providing grants to schools serving students with autism.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again Tuesday, Aug. 1, to hear a number of additional bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


tea-logo-header-2Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced this week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will release Texas’s plan to satisfy new federal education laws on Monday. Congress passed and former President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of both the Obama and Trump administrations, has spent time developing, altering, and in some cases even omitting the rules that govern the law. Those rules are now finalized, and states are now tasked with submitting their individual plans to satisfy the law and remaining rules. The federal law returns some education decision making to states and, in several areas, offers states an opportunity to alter the way they plan to satisfy federal education requirements.

Stay tuned for more next week on how Texas plans to handle the new law. The release of the Texas ESSA plan on Monday will also initiate the first day of a thirty-day public comment period.

 


At the annual ATPE Summit held in Austin earlier this month, Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley authored a resolution for ATPE to honor House Speaker Joe Straus and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty for their support of public education. On Tuesday, Gayle visited the Texas State Capitol and joined members of the ATPE lobby team to present the honorary resolution to Chairman Huberty, who is also Gayle’s own state representative.

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


 

ATPE’s Wrap-Up of the 85th Legislature’s Regular Session

ATPE at the Capitol squreWhile navigating challenges both new and familiar, and with the support of our members, ATPE has continued to fight for the rights of educators, teachers, and parents and to fend off threats to public education in the great state of Texas. This year, many ATPE members took swift and decisive action to protect their rights by calling, writing, and visiting members of the legislature (on more than one occasion) to inform their elected officials of the issues most important to Texas educators.

The 85th Legislature’s regular session was long and arduous, but ATPE persisted in keeping public tax dollars out of private institutions—despite strong pushes from some lawmakers, the lieutenant governor, and outside lobbying groups to do the opposite. The Texas House leadership stood with ATPE, the vast of majority of parents, and the education community to fight vouchers and champion improvements to Texas’s school finance system. Both chambers engaged in meaningful conversations about improving school accountability and reducing the emphasis on standardized testing.

Despite the numerous challenges presented during the 85th regular session of 2017, ATPE rose to the occasion and continued on our mission to provide every child equal opportunity to receive an exemplary education. Below are some highlights from this year’s regular legislative session.

Progress on ATPE’s Legislative Priorities for the 85th Legislature

  1. School Funding
  2. TRS and Healthcare
  3. Saving Payroll Deduction
  4. Stopping Privatization
  5. Promoting Educator Quality
  6. Reducing Standardized Testing
  7. Addressing Regulatory Exemptions
The ATPE Lobby Team

Members of the ATPE Lobby Team

1. School Funding: ATPE lobbied for dramatic improvements to the state’s school finance system and urged lawmakers to provide the resources necessary to allow every child in Texas access to an exemplary public education.

o  The state budget: Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound)

While the House and Senate each began this session with their own versions of the budget, the bills were worked out in a conference committee and resulted in the following new state budget for the next two years:

·       Lawmakers allocated fewer state dollars to school districts under this budget, requiring local schools instead to rely more heavily on property taxes just to stay open. The decrease in state funding coupled with the elimination of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) is a one-two punch for districts that are already cash strapped, especially those in rural areas, and some have already stated they will either close or consolidate under this budget. This continues a trend of legislators shifting the burden of paying for public education from the state to the local level, which results in increased upward pressure on local property taxes to make up for the reduction in state funds. Legislators must realize that our outdated school finance formulas need to be reformed, and the state must shoulder its share of the burden if our schools are to meet the demands of rapid growth in population and enrollment.

·        The TRS healthcare program for retirees faced a billion-dollar shortfall going into the next biennium under its existing and inadequate funding mechanism. Lawmakers made modest increases to state and district funding formulas, in addition to providing a relatively small amount of one-time supplemental funding from the state, in exchange for passing a TRS reform bill that shifts the majority of the shortfall to retirees through increased premiums and decreased benefits. In all, SB1 includes $480 million above what previous formula funding called for, made up of $350 million from the state and $130 million from school districts.

o  School finance reform: House Bill (HB) 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble)

HB 21 was the first iteration of what Chairman Huberty planned to be a two- or three-session effort to completely overhaul the state’s school funding mechanism. A testament to the volatility of this session, HB 21 began as a school finance bill supported by ATPE and most of the education community. The bill would have increased the basic allotment of funding per student, lowered the recapture rate, created a Hardship Provision Grant to soften the elimination of ASATR funding for several districts, added a formula weight for students with dyslexia, increased the Career and Technology Allotment weight (CTE), and repealed hold harmless provisions in the current law. Coupled with companion legislation in the House’s state budget proposal, HB 21 could have provided as much as $1.9 billion in additional state funding for public education.

However, once the bill passed to the Senate, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, substituted it with language of his own that reduced the additional funding to $530 million and added in a controversial provision for vouchers for students with disabilities. This draining of public tax dollars into private entities through a proposed Educational Savings Account (ESA) voucher caused ATPE and other members of the education community to retract their support of the bill. The Senate passed the voucher-laden version of the bill on a mostly party-line vote. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), joined with all Republicans to support the bill.

The House refused to concur with the Senate’s changes to the bill, and Chairman Huberty called for a conference committee to work out the differences between each chamber’s versions of HB 21. However, over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Patrick and Chairman Larry Taylor declared the bill dead that same afternoon, refusing to appoint members of the Senate to participate in a conference committee. The Senate ultimately appointed conferees with just hours to spare on the last day of deliberations, but no agreement could be worked out in the few remaining hours, and the school finance bill died.

2. TRS and Healthcare: ATPE helped prevent the passage of bills that would change the defined benefit structure of TRS, raised awareness of the dramatically rising costs of educators’ healthcare programs, and helped secure additional funding for TRS-Care to prevent retired educators from losing their access to healthcare.

o  HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin)

As stated above, ATPE entered the 2017 legislative session with a looming crisis for the state’s healthcare program for retired educators. Facing a $1 billion shortfall, TRS-Care was slated to run out of funding during the next biennium without urgent action by the 85th Legislature. Combining $350 million in state funds along with $130 million in support from school districts, the passage of HB 3976 helped secure $480 million in new money budgeted for TRS-Care over the next biennium. In order to maintain coverage, this bill changes the current TRS-Care plan by splitting coverage into two groups based on retirees’ ages. While the enactment of the bill means higher costs for participating retirees, it prevents the worst-case scenario: The collapse of TRS-Care in its entirety. Read a more comprehensive summary of the legislative changes here, and also read here about how the TRS Board of Trustees is now undertaking the rulemaking process to implement the changes called for by lawmakers in greater detail.

o  SB 1750 and SB 1751 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston)

Sen. Bettencourt’s SB 1750 and SB 1751 revived the concept of converting the TRS defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution program in the future, making it more like a 401(k) plan or a hybrid of the two. The first bill called only for an interim study of the idea, while the second bill would have authorized TRS and ERS (the agency overseeing a similar pension plan for state employees) to create such a program as an alternative for new employees. Bills like this are a common fixture in the sessions preceding when an agency is up for its sunset review. While both bills were referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee, neither received a hearing and both proposals died. Additionally, other legislation was passed that will move back the sunset date for TRS to the year 2025.

3. Saving Payroll Deduction: ATPE fought back against anti-educator bills that would do away with payroll deduction for voluntary professional association dues.

o   SB 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and HB 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston)

ATPE continued to defend educators’ rights to use voluntary payroll deduction for their association dues and to fight anti-educator bills that do away with that option in an attempt to make it harder for educators to join professional groups like ours. Bills eliminating payroll deduction were identified as priorities of both the governor and lieutenant governor. ATPE members mounted strong opposition, testifying in committee and meeting with individual members of both the House and Senate to demand fair treatment. The Senate version (SB 13) of the so-called “union dues” bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote. In the House, both SB 13 and HB 510 were referred to the Committee on State Affairs but did not receive a hearing and subsequently died there.

4. Stopping Privatization: ATPE helped defeat bills aimed at creating private school voucher programs.

o  SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood)

Having made school choice one of his top three legislative priorities this session, Lt. Gov. Patrick used SB 3 as the main vehicle to push for vouchers in the form of both corporate tax credits for donations to private school scholarships and educational savings accounts for parents to use for their children’s private and home school expenses. The bill was voted out of the full Senate after measures were added to make the bill more palatable to rural legislators who were concerned about the impact a major subsidy would have on their districts. SB 3 passed the Senate with the support of 13 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville); the rest of the Senate Democrats and three Republicans, including Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), voted against the bill. While Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is recorded as voting against SB 3, she cast a key vote to enable the bill to come up for consideration on the Senate floor, which paved the way for its passage. Upon being received in the House, the bill was referred to the House Public Education Committee, where it later died.

o  The Senate’s voucher amendment to HB 21

Earlier in the session, the House passed HB 21 by Chairman Dan Huberty as a school finance reform measure and the policy component intended to guide the additional money allocated to education in the House’s version of the draft budget. As we discussed above, HB 21 was vigorously debated on the House floor and passed to the Senate, where Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) substituted the House version of the bill with his own bill demanding an ESA voucher for students with special needs. The Senate passed its substitute version of HB 21 and sent it back to the House, which refused to concur with the controversial amendments. Lawmakers were unable to agree to a final bill, and HB 21 died along with all other attempts to pass a private school voucher this session.

o  Record votes on vouchers. The House took multiple noteworthy votes against private school vouchers this session:

·        During the initial debate of SB 1—the budget bill—on the House floor, members voted 104-43 in favor of an amendment by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi), Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), and Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-Bryan) to prohibit the use of public funds from supporting school choice programs in any form.

·        The House voted against vouchers again upon receiving the Senate’s version of the school finance bill, HB 21. The vote occurred in response to a “motion to instruct” presented by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), a move intended to inform conference committee appointees of the desire of the body they represent while fleshing out the differences between differing bills. Chairman Zerwas filed the motion to urge House members of the conference committee to reject any voucher language in potential compromises on HB 21, and a supermajority of the House agreed. House members voted 101-45 to reject any compromises on HB 21 that would allow for ESAs, tax credit scholarships, or any other form of voucher.

·        Immediately following that vote, members squashed an alternative motion to instruct the conferees to “consider all methods of education choice and financing for special needs students.” The motion, presented by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), failed with members voting 47-89 against it.

o  Related legislation: The “Tim Tebow” Bill, SB 640, by Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano)

Once again, this session ATPE helped prevent the passage of a bill that would force public schools to allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular UIL activities. ATPE members have long opposed the uneven playing field that would be created with allowing the participation of homeschooled students in UIL, since those students are not be held to the same academic and disciplinary standards as public school students.

5. Promoting Educator Quality: ATPE advocated for maintaining high standards for the education profession and a compensation and benefits structure that promotes educator recruitment and retention.

o  SB 1839 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola)

Amended several times over, SB 1839 became the catch-all for bills that had otherwise failed in the legislative process. In its original form, the bill mandated that relevant PEIMS (Public Education Information Management Systems) data be shared with educator preparation programs, gave the commissioner more rulemaking authority with regard to out-of-state certificate holders, and required educator preparation programs to include instruction on digital learning. In the final version signed by the governor, the bill also includes measures to do the following:

·        Prohibit the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) from requiring educator preparation programs to deliver one or more face-to-face support visits for principal, librarian, counselor, and diagnostician candidates during their clinical experience;

·        Create an early childhood through third grade teaching certificate;

·        Require additional professional development for digital learning and teaching methods; and

·        Allow long-term substitute teaching to count in lieu of minimal field-based experience hours required of certain educator candidates before entering the classroom as the teacher-of-record on a probationary certificate. This
language was originally a part of SB 1278, a bill ATPE testified against because it watered down educator preparation standards raised by SBEC during the past year. As that bill made its way through the committee process, much of the SB 1278 content was stripped away; however, this remaining portion was improved and ultimately added to SB 1839.

 

6. Reducing Standardized Testing: ATPE supported bills to reduce the role of standardized test scores in our accountability system for schools, in teacher evaluations, and in high-stakes decisions for students. 

o  SB 463 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)

During the 84th regular session of the Texas Legislature in 2015, ATPE worked with Sen. Seliger to enact legislation that would provide a safe harbor for eligible high school seniors otherwise prevented from graduating due to failure of two or fewer STAAR tests. Enacted by that 2015 law that was set to expire this year, Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) take the student’s entire academic history into account and use that to work a path to graduation. This session, we successfully worked with legislators once more to secure access to IGCs for high school students through 2019 with the passage of SB 463. 

o  HB 657 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio)

This ATPE-supported legislation allows ARD committees to promote special education students who have failed an exam but have otherwise met the goals of their individual education plans (IEPs). The passage of this bill provides students in special education programs with additional relief from regimented standardized testing. 

o  HB 515 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston)

What started out as a bill to reduce the number of standardized tests that students are required to take lost much of its strength as amendments were added through the committee process. The bill’s focus was altered, causing it to place an emphasis on replacing state exams for high school social studies with the US Citizenship test, which would have presented problems due to a lack of alignment between the proposed test and the curriculum standards in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The author of the bill did not concur with Senate amendments when the bill was sent back to the House, and the bill died.

 

o  HB 1333 by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs)

This bill called for a reduction in the number of standardized tests taken by public school students by requiring the state to seek a waiver of federal laws that require certain tests in grades three to 12, and bringing the number of standardized tests for high school students down to the federally required minimum. The bill also called for making test scores a smaller percentage of school accountability calculations and removing standardized test scores as a facet of teacher evaluation. This bill did not make it beyond a hearing in the House Public Education Committee.

7. Addressing Regulatory Exemptions: ATPE advocated for limiting, repealing, or adding safeguards to regulatory exemptions that have been granted to some public schools, including Districts of Innovation (DOI).

Several bills were put forth this session with the goal of closing loopholes associated with the advent of Districts of Innovation (DOI). ATPE successfully advocated for a new measure of transparency under DOI:

SB 1566 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)

Included in SB 1566, an omnibus bill pertaining to district and charter governance, is the requirement that school districts designated a DOI must post and maintain their DOI plan prominently on the school district’s website. A school district now has 15 days upon adoption to post its DOI plan or any revisions to its plan.

However, none of the following DOI bills made it to final passage:

o  HB 972 by Rep. Helen Giddings (D-Dallas)

This bill would have partly disallowed districts from exempting themselves from teacher certification laws by preventing a district from assigning most students in first through sixth grades to an uncertified teacher for two consecutive years (unless the district gets permission from parents). The bill passed the House but was not given a hearing in the Senate.

o  HB 1867 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint)

This bill would have removed educator certification from the exemptions available to districts under the DOI law. The bill failed to pass either chamber.

o  HB 1865 by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth)

The bill would have removed school start date requirements from the list of eligible DOI exemptions, which would have eliminated a major enticement to districts considering DOI status. A desire to start the school year on an earlier date has been the most typical exemption sought by DOIs statewide. Despite the tourism industry vigorously lobbying in support of this legislation that would preserve a more predictable school calendar, the bill was left pending and eventually died after being heard in the House Public Education Committee.

o  HB 620 by Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano)

The bill would have allowed districts the option of moving the school start date to the second Monday in August, up from the fourth, and would have required instruction time measured in minutes, as opposed to days. HB 620 would have offered schools flexibility and eliminated an incentive to pursue DOI status. Like HB 1865, the bill was left pending and therefore died in the House Public Education Committee.

Other Legislative Victories:

·        ATPE supported changes to the A-F accountability system put in place for campuses last session (HB 22).

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 22 to try to revamp the state’s unpopular A-F accountability grading system for schools and districts. A version of the bill approved by the House had broad support from the education community, but stakeholders were less enthusiastic about changes made to the bill in the Senate. Ultimately, the bill was referred to a conference committee to iron out an agreement, and HB 22 became one of the last bills passed by the 85th Legislature before the clock ran out on the regular session. HB 22 as finally passed collapses the five domains down to three, allows districts to add locally designed aspects of their accountability plans subject to approval by the Commissioner of Education, and pushes back the rollout of the A-F rating system for campuses to August 2019. ATPE successfully advocated to require the rulemaking process include input from teachers. While ATPE is still not a proponent of the A-F system and had argued for eliminating the overall summative grade for schools, we support these changes in the final compromise version of HB 22, which should give districts more leeway and educators an additional opportunity for local input into the design of their schools’ accountability systems.

·        ATPE bolstered efforts to prevent and punish cyberbullying - David’s Law, SB 179, by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio).

Expanding on ATPE’s work in prior sessions to help curtail bullying of students, the act now known as David’s Law establishes criminal penalties for those engaged in acts of cyberbullying and requires schools to create secure channels for students to report cyberbullying. 

·        ATPE supported prohibiting the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from basing a school’s performance on the number of students in special education programs – SB 160 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso).

ATPE supported legislators’ efforts to end the de facto 8.5 percent cap on schools enrolling students in special education services. This legislation prevents TEA from monitoring school performance based on the percentage of students they enroll in special education services. 

·       ATPE worked closely with lawmakers to address educator misconduct – SB 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston).

One of the first bills signed into law by Gov. Abbott this year, SB 7 aims to address the phenomenon sometimes called “passing the trash,” whereby educators accused of misconduct have been allowed to resign and find work in another school district thanks to lax reporting. Several amendments were added to the original version of this bill, including one to strip certain employees convicted of felony sexual offenses of their TRS pensions, amendments to add parental notification requirements, and an amendment that requires school job applicants to disclose any criminal charges or convictions in a pre-employment affidavit.

ATPE's 2016-17 State Officers

ATPE’s 2016-17 State Officers

New tools help educators calculate Social Security benefits after WEP or GPO reductions

Retirement planning written on a notepad.One of the most common questions I get from members calling in to the ATPE state office for guidance is about how their TRS pension will affect their ability to draw either their own or their spouse’s Social Security benefits. When I get these questions I always find myself walking the member through the intricacies of one or both of the provisions in federal law that can reduce the Social Security benefits they would otherwise receive. Additional information about these offsets, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), can be found here on ATPE’s website.

Up until now, I have been able to explain to ATPE members how the WEP and GPO may affect them, but I haven’t been able to provide them with any direct resources that would show them what their personal Social Security benefits are likely to look like after being reduced by one of these offsets, until now. I recently learned of a new suite of online calculators that have been made available by the federal Social Security Administration on its website that allow the public to get a better understanding of what their Social Security benefit will look like. Two of these calculators are specifically designed to help educators and people subject to either GPO or WEP reductions to determine their remaining Social Security benefit.

The calculators are fairly simple and straightforward to use, but you will need some information about your personal Social Security savings that you can find on your Social Security statement. You’ll also need to have information about your TRS pension that you can get from TRS either by calling the agency, using the MyTRS member portal, or looking on your TRS statement.

You can find the WEP calculator here and the GPO calculator here.

TRS to consider whether you are paying too much for your 403(b)

TRS logoAll state agencies adhere to a regular cycle of rule review. This requirement is intended to help ensure that state rules and regulations stay relatively up to date. Often times a required rule review will result in little more than the existing rule being published, without significant changes, in the Texas Register to satisfy public notice and then readopted essentially as is. Sometimes, however, an agency will take the opportunity of a rule coming up for standard review as a chance to evaluate the policy addressed by the rule and make substantive changes. Such is the case with a Teacher Retirement System (TRS) rule on certification of 403(b) vendors.

While Texas educators’ main source of retirement income will likely be their TRS pension, a TRS pension payment alone will not support more than a modest standard of living during retirement for most educators. That’s where supplemental retirement investment products, such as 403(b)s, come in. They encourage educators to put away additional dollars by providing a relatively simple vehicle, complete with tax advantages, for educators to use when saving for their retirement.

The legislature has tasked TRS with maintaining a list of 403(b) providers that are eligible to offer products to public school employees. In order to be eligible, a provider must meet certain requirements, including some set by state laws and others by agency rules. The agency is currently considering whether to tighten its eligibility rules, particularly with regard to fees that providers can charge educators both for investing and for early withdrawal penalties of certain investments.

ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyThe agency’s proposed rule amendment, which can be found here, was the subject of an informal conference at TRS this week in which many members of the financial services community expressed concerns over the new rule proposal. Essentially all the discrete concerns expressed during the hearing boil down to the basic belief that the new rules create an environment for 403(b) providers in which many of them will not be able to do business profitably, and therefore the number of 403(b) providers offering products to Texas educators will drop dramatically under the proposed rule. The representatives of the financial sector believe this would be a disservice, of course, to Texas educators who benefit from a robust availability of 403(b) products in order to better meet their retirement goals.

TRS staff will now review and address the comments collected both from those who spoke at the conference this week and the many more who will submit written comments. The staff will then determine whether or not to make additional changes to the agency’s proposed rules before the recommending them for adoption by the TRS board. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as the rulemaking process continues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 9, 2017

Here’s your latest news wrap-up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

 


IMG_8509On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his plans for a special session beginning July 18. This “overtime” period for the 85th legislature is needed only because lawmakers failed to pass an important, time-sensitive agency sunset bill that affects the licensing of medical professionals, a failure many are attributing to deliberate stall tactics and the “bill kidnapping” approach taken by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the final week of the regular session. Lawmakers could address the sunset issue within a matter of days and head home to enjoy the dog days of summer with their families, but Abbott is calling on them to take up 19 additional issues during the 30-day special session, which is estimated to cost taxpayers about $1 million.

During the governor’s press conference, he led off his laundry list of topics for the upcoming special session with a surprise announcement that he wants lawmakers to mandate a $1,000 annual pay raise for teachers. The catch, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains in this blog post, is that no additional money would be appropriated for the salary increase. Gov. Abbott made it clear that he intends for school districts to find money within their existing budgets to cover the proposed pay raise. For many districts, that would necessitate cuts in some other area, which would very likely be expenditures for staff pay or benefits, such as healthcare programs that are already becoming increasingly hard for educators to afford. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter added in this video for Twitter that potential offsets could include staff layoffs or higher class sizes, depending on each district’s financial circumstances and priorities.

If the governor planned to use this special session as another shot at meaningful school finance reform, then perhaps legislators could find ways to fund a teacher pay raise and other critical needs of our public schools. Unfortunately, the only school finance-related issue on the governor’s call is legislation to appoint a statewide commission to study school finance during the next interim.

Another surprise topic added to the governor’s agenda for the special session is giving districts greater “flexibility” in their hiring and firing decisions. Teacher contract rights have been targeted in prior legislative sessions, but the topic was hardly broached during the 2017 legislative session.

ATPE representatives testified against a bill to eliminate teachers' payroll deduction rights during the regular session.

ATPE representatives testified against an anti-educator bill to eliminate teachers’ payroll deduction rights during the regular session. The contentious issue is being revived for the upcoming special session.

The remaining school-related items in the special session outline are a trio of controversial, highly partisan scorecard issues from bills that failed to garner enough support to pass during the regular session:

  • One is the anti-educator legislation to do away with teachers’ rights to pay their voluntary professional association dues using payroll deduction. In Tuesday’s press conference, Gov. Abbott revived tired rhetoric from his Jan. 2017 State of the State address that has already been proven false – the claim that taxpayer dollars are being spent to collect “union dues.” We will continue to refute this unfounded claim and fight this harmful, unnecessary measure aimed at silencing educators’ voices by making it more difficult for them to join associations like ATPE.
  • Also on tap for this legislative overtime is yet another push for private school vouchers for students with special needs. With the Texas House of Representatives having already voted multiple times to reject this idea, it is hard to fathom a sudden change of heart that would give this legislation a greater chance of passing during the special session.
  • Lastly, the governor is also asking lawmakers again to try to restrict local school districts’ adoption of policies on bathroom usage. Both chambers passed versions of a bathroom bill during the regular session, but they could not agree on the extent to which the state should infringe on local control over these decisions. In other words, get ready for even more potty talk.

To read the full list of the governor’s priorities for the special session, view ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post here. Also, check out ATPE’s press release, and be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for new developments.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting today in Austin, and ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is there. She provided an update in this blog post on the items being discussed today by the board. They include plans to add a new early childhood teaching certificate mandated by the legislature recently, plus how Districts of Innovation are claiming exemptions from certification laws.

 


 

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 2, 2017

Texas state legislators have gone home, at least temporarily. When might they return? Here is the latest advocacy news from ATPE:

 


ThinkstockPhotos-144283240On Monday, May 29, the 85th Legislature adjourned sine die, following a 140-day regular session marked by considerable conflict over important and not-so-important issues. The Legislature did reach an agreement on the state’s budget, which was the only bill constitutionally required to pass. However, the House and Senate took decidedly different approaches to their other priorities this session, as ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote in this blog post on Monday. School finance reforms sought by the House fell victim to a push for private school vouchers by the Senate. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick both made late-session declarations that lawmakers needed to pass a bill regulating public bathroom use by transgender Texans and a bill changing requirements for elections before property tax increases, but neither measure made it beyond the finish line.

Another bill that did not pass was a sunset “safety net” bill designed to keep certain state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, from ceasing to operate during the next two years. The failure of that bill to pass could alone force Gov. Abbott to call a special session, leading to speculation about which other topics might be added to the types of bills that could be considered during a special session. Lt. Gov. Patrick warned during the last week of the regular session that he would be urging the governor to include on any special session call various other “priorities” that the Senate passed but the House did not approve; those could include not only state-mandated bathroom restrictions to which many school districts and business leaders objected, but also private school vouchers and the anti-educator bill that would eliminate payroll deduction for educators’ professional membership dues. All of these were ATPE-opposed bills that were shut down during the regular session, largely thanks to the more moderate, common sense approach of the Texas House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus.

After hinting that he would make an announcement by the end of this week, Gov. Abbott told reporters today not to expect any announcement either today or during the weekend about his calling a special session. Be sure to tune in to Teach the Vote next week and follow us on Twitter for updates.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-177774022-docThe Legislature managed to pass important bills to keep the TRS-Care healthcare program for retired educators afloat for a few more years, and the TRS board of trustees now has responsibility for implementing the changes directed by lawmakers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended today’s meeting of the TRS board and penned a blog post outlining the many changes that will take effect in 2018.

While the legislature passed no major bills pertaining to TRS-ActiveCare this session, the board is taking steps now to mitigate an anticipated shortfall for that program, too. Fortunately, no bills that would negatively affect the TRS pension plan, such as converting the defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution or hybrid design, gained traction this session. Check out Mark’s blog post for more on the legislative changes that will affect TRS and educators’ healthcare.

 


One of the most significant bills approved by the 85th Legislature this year was House Bill 22, aimed at reworking the A-F accountability system for school districts and campuses. On our blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter answers a number of questions about what the bill does and areas in which Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will be tasked with rulemaking and additional interpretation of HB 22. Read Monty’s blog post for more information about changes coming soon to the A-F system.

 


Male lecturer looking at students writing in a classroomYet another topic that garnered significant discussion by the 85th Legislature this year was educator quality. The results were mixed, as ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann analyzed this week for our blog. A high-profile bill to stem educator misconduct and the problem often called “passing the trash” got the approval of lawmakers and has already been signed into law by Gov. Abbott. For more on that bill and several others relating to educator preparation and certification, check out Kate’s latest blog post here.

 


Next week, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) will be meeting on Friday, June 9. We’ll have a report for you on that meeting, plus ongoing analysis of the legislative session that ended this week. ATPE will also bring you up-to-the-minute reporting on any announcements of a special session. As always, you can follow @TeachtheVote and individual members of the ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the most timely news from our team.

17_web_Spotlight_SummitATPE members are also encouraged to register to attend the ATPE Summit, July 10-12 in Austin, where our lobbyists will be presenting an in-person legislative update wrapping up the 85th legislative session and what it means for Texas public education.

 


 

TRS board approves major healthcare changes

TRS logoThe board of trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas met Friday to make changes to healthcare and retirement following the actions of the 85th Texas Legislature, which adjourned sine die on Monday.

Before delving into plan information, the board approved new contracts with CVS Caremark as the pharmacy benefit management (PBM) administrator for TRS-Care Standard, TRS-Care Part D, and TRS-ActiveCare. Staff then reviewed the two major pieces of legislation that will define healthcare and retirement benefits under TRS moving forward:

Senate Bill (SB) 1

The state budget covered roughly $480 million of the estimated $1 billion shortfall facing TRS-Care by increasing contributions by both the state and school districts, including one-time state supplemental funding of $182.6 million. While this prevented a worst-case scenario for retirees, the balance will unfortunately have to come from higher premiums and benefit reductions.

House Bill (HB) 3976

This bill represents a major structural overhaul of TRS-Care. It establishes two separate plans: A single High Deductible Plan for non-Medicare participants and a Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D Plan for Medicare participants.

Under HB 3976, TRS cannot charge a premium during the 2018-2021 plan years to disability retirees who retired as a disability retiree effective on or before January 1, 2017, who are currently receiving disability retirement benefits, and who are not eligible to enroll in Medicare. The bill eliminates the statutory requirement to provide a free healthcare plan for retiree-only coverage, but will provide free generic preventative maintenance medications for enrollees in the high deductible plan. The new program provides an opt-in window for retirees under the age of 65 who choose coverage elsewhere to opt-in to the Medicare Advantage Plan at age 65.

What’s next

On Friday, the board approved the new TRS-Care plans created under HB 3976. From September 1, 2017, to December 31, 2017, the agency will maintain the current TRS-Care 1, TRS-Care 2, and TRS-Care 3 Plans, such that FY 2017 will be an extended 16-month plan year. Deductibles and out-of-pocket accumulators will not restart on September 1, 2017. The agency plans to maintain current retiree premium contributions by plan, Medicare status, family size, and years of service.

New TRS-Care plans

Non-Medicare participants on the TRS-Care 1, TRS-Care 2, and TRS-Care 3 plans will be absorbed into the new TRS-Care Standard Plan. In-network coverage will include a $3,000/$6,000 deductible, $7,150/$14,300 maximum out-of-pocket limits, and 80/20% coinsurance. Out of network coverage will include a $6,000/$12,000 deductible, $14,300/$28,600 maximum out-of-pocket limits, and 60/40% coinsurance.

Medicare participants will be absorbed into the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage/Medicare Part D Plan, which includes a $500 deductible, $3,500 maximum out-of-pocket limit, 95/5% coinsurance, $500 IP hospital copay per stay, $250 OP hospital copay per visit, $65 ER copay, $35 urgent care copay, $5 PCP office visit copay, $10 specialist office visit copay, $0 preventive services copay, $5/$25/$50 retail pharmacy copay, and $15/$70/$125 mail order pharmacy copay.

TRS will make an alternative plan available for certain participants who are Medicare eligible but not enrolled in either Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B, or cannot access a provider through the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage Plan.

New premiums are scheduled to take effect January 1, 2018. A non-Medicare retiree only will see a monthly premium of $200, and a Medicare retiree only will see a monthly premium of $146. Premiums for retiree and spouse are $739/$590, retiree and children $433/$504, and retiree and family $1,074/$1,106.

The TRS-Care Medicare Advantage network is a PPO plan network with an out-of-network benefit equivalent to the in-network benefit. Providers do not need to be in network as long as a provider accepts Medicare and agrees to bill Humana, the TRS-Care vendor.

The agency has already begun the first phase of implementation, which involves communicating to participants the changes that will take effect January 1, 2018. These communications will include a monthly e-newsletter, direct mail correspondence, and online information. While these changes will increase the burdens on plan participants, they are estimated to keep TRS-Care positively funded until 2021.

TRS-ActiveCare Changes

The legislature did not pass any legislation affecting TRS-ActiveCare, which is a self-funded program, but the board did make significant plan changes on Friday.

The sole source of funding for TRS-ActiveCare is premiums. The state contributes $75 per month per employee through the school finance formulas, and districts contribute a minimum of $150 per month per employee, with some districts contributing more. Employees contribute the remainder of the projected gross premiums. Funding requirements for the state and districts have not changed since the program’s inception in 2002.

While in much better shape than TRS-Care, TRS-ActiveCare is facing a shortfall of just under $100 million in 2018, which has placed pressure on premiums. The agency’s goal is to balance premium increases against the need to build the fund balance to protect the plan. The target fund balance at the end of FY 2018 is one month of claims, or $158 million. Without plan design changes, staff suggested an average rate increase of 9.9 percent would be required to achieve the target ending fund balance.

With that in mind, the board approved a number of changes based on agency recommendations. Those on the TRS-ActiveCare-Select and TRS-ActiveCare-2 plans will see increased costs associated with out-of-network providers, and will see ER copays increase to $200 from $150. There are no changes planned regarding prescription drug benefits.

These changes will allow for a slightly smaller 8.1 percent average rate increase. TRS-ActiveCare-1HD rates will increase 2.9 percent for employee only, 8.4 percent for employee and spouse, 9.1 percent for employee and children, and 6.9 percent for employee and family. TRS-ActiveCare Select rates will increase 6.2 percent for employee only, 10.2 percent for employee and spouse, 7.1 percent for employee and children, and 16.8 percent for employee and family. TRS-ActiveCare-2 rates will increase 10.7 percent for employee only, 9.1 percent for employee and spouse, 1.9 percent for employee and children, and 25.5 percent for employee and family.

Other legislative changes

At Thursday’s meeting, executive director Brian Guthrie told board members “we are very pleased” with how the legislative session turned out for TRS. Three key bills related to the system passed within minutes of a crucial deadline late in the session. Debriefing the board, TRS governmental relations director Merita Zoga identified several additional items passed by the legislature related to TRS:

  • HB 89 prohibits governmental entities from contracting with or investing in a company that boycotts Israel.
  • SB 253 adds to the existing divestment statute, prohibiting TRS from investing in companies designated as terrorist organizations.
  • SB 252 prohibits government entities from contracting with companies doing business with Iran, Sudan, or a foreign terrorist organization.
  • SB 7, the teacher misconduct bill, includes language related to TRS. The bill strips the service retirement annuity from a TRS member who is convicted of felony sexual abuse, sexual assault, or improper relationship between educator and student. All or part of the annuity may be awarded instead to an innocent spouse.
  • SB 500 would strip the service retirement annuity of a member of a public retirement system, such as TRS or ERS, if the member is an elected official and is convicted of certain qualifying felonies, including bribery, corruption, perjury, and other offenses related to their official capacity.
  • HB 1428 would allow TRS to act as a mediator in balance billing disputes.

Staff pointed out that the legislature did not pass any bills related to a cost of living adjustment (COLA), TRS-ActiveCare, or pension studies. Other major bills affecting TRS include the following:

SB 1954

This bill allows Optional Retirement Program (ORP)-eligible employees who are not notified properly additional time to elect ORP participation. The proposed bill creates an error correction process for reporting an ORP employee to TRS when the employee is not eligible for TRS. The person would be restored to ORP participation and member, state, and employer contributions related to the incorrect reporting, plus interest, would be paid to the employee’s ORP account. Amounts contributed to TRS that are in excess of participant contributions due to ORP would be refunded to the individual.

SB 1663

SB 1663 provides a number of member friendly benefit and administrative changes. It allows the TRS board to go into executive session to discuss particular investment transactions, strategies, portfolios, and other potential transactions related to private investments if the board determines that deliberating or conferring in an open meeting would have detrimental effect on TRS’s negotiations with third parties or place TRS at a competitive disadvantage in the market. The bill provides TRS with the authority to charge late fees on late reports by reporting entities.

It further allows TRS to add an additional five years of service credit when determining whether an early age reduction is applicable and the amount of the reduction, for a 100 percent joint and survivor annuity payable at the death of an active member. The bill amends current law to provide that disability retirees with less than 10 years of service credit who choose a $150 per month annuity for the number of months of membership to allow their beneficiaries to receive any remaining member contributions as an additional death benefit if the disability retiree dies before the period ends. The bill also moves the TRS sunset review to 2025.

SB 1664

SB 1664 bill provides IRS code compliance, statutory corrections, and member friendly benefit changes. It provides additional time for TRS members to purchase sick and personal leave service credit at retirement and corrects an error referencing the TRS board rather than the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to certify state contributions to the ORP.

SB 1665

This bill continues the use of derivatives and external managers capped at 30 percent of total assets and repeals the sunset dates on the authorities.