Every Texan is a public education stakeholder, and because all public education issues are decided in the realm of public policy, we all have a voice if we choose to use it. Through Teach the Vote, ATPE is highlighting issues that are of great importance to the education community, but we believe the information presented here is relevant to all public education stakeholders.
Under each issue, you'll find:
We encourage you to become more familiar with the state of public education today and to formulate your own viewpoints. Visit our Teach the Vote blog for updates on developments at the Capitol and more information about how you can help advocate for public education. You can also sign up to receive email and RSS alerts whenever new blog content is posted, and you can follow @TeachtheVote and ATPE's lobbyists on Twitter. In addition, the information on our Take Action and Resources pages will help you communicate with officeholders and other stakeholders about these and other issues.
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE supports legislation to dramatically improve the state's school finance system and enable the efficient operation of public schools that are safe and productive learning environments. We believe that every child deserves access to an exemplary public education rather than one that meets only minimum constitutional standards. We urge lawmakers to provide the resources necessary for Texas to fulfill the economic and moral imperative to help all students reach their full potential.
Funding determines everything in our public schools. If lawmakers do not allocate the resources necessary for the next generation to meet future challenges, then they have done a disservice to Texas children. We all want the best education possible for our children and the best economic environment to foster quality job growth. We can only achieve the best by setting high, yet reasonable, standards and providing educators and our public schools with the funding necessary to meet those objectives.
ATPE's position: ATPE supports a public education funding system that is equitable and adequate to provide every student an equal opportunity to receive an exemplary public education. ATPE also supports any form of state revenue enhancement and tax restructuring that accomplishes this goal, empowers the state to be the primary source of funding, and creates a more stable funding structure for our schools. We strongly support efforts to increase funding levels to meet the needs of a rapidly growing and changing population and to increase funding equity for all students.
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE supports measures to provide affordable healthcare options for active public school employees, retired educators, and their dependents. We urge the legislature to address the rising cost to Texas educators for benefits that have lagged behind those offered to educators in other states and those employed in other professions. Assuring educators that they will have access to quality healthcare even after retiring is a vital tool for recruiting and retaining the best teachers in Texas public schools.
Since the mid-1980s, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) has been responsible for administering health insurance programs for educators. TRS benefits are a major recruitment and retention tool that can help entice qualified individuals to enter and remain in public education. Unfortunately, the educator healthcare programs administered through TRS continue to be problematic due to funding constraints.
Prior to each of the last two sessions, TRS-Care, the health insurance plan for retired educators, was projected to completely run out of funding unless the legislature acted to save the program. Those dire circumstances were the result of the state's meager funding of employee benefits in general over several years. Texas spends $969 per pupil on employee benefits, including contributions to educators' retirement and healthcare funds, which puts us at the bottom of the list compared with other states. Neighboring states Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana spend $1,425 per pupil, $1,648 per pupil, and $2,943 per pupil, respectively, for employee benefits (U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances: 2012, G12-CG-ASPEF, released May 2014).
During the 84th legislative session in 2015, the legislature appropriated more than $700 million in one-time supplemental funding for TRS-Care. By the time the 85th legislative session began, the required supplemental expenditure simply to hold the system level would have been $1.2 billion. As a result, the lawmakers significantly reformed the retiree health care system in 2017 by bifurcating it between retirees under the age of 65 and those who were at least 65 years old. Those legislative changes also reduced the number of healthcare plans available for each of those populations to a single plan, eliminating the free option, and adjusting the premiums paid by retirees, which had not changed in nearly a decade. The failure of the legislature to begin addressing retired educators' healthcare funding needs much earlier and make small changes over time created a crisis situation where retirees boar significant pain in order to save the system.
Coming into the current 86th legislative session, TRS-Care was again projected to have a shortfall of roughly $200 million. The legislature has proposed funding that amount in its base budget bills, but without addressing healthcare funding in a more systemic way, the fund is on track to return to a crisis state within two legislative sessions.
State funding for TRS-ActiveCare, which covers many public education employees who have not yet retired, has been static since the program was first created in 2001. During that time frame, employees' premiums have increased more than 250 percent. In fact, active employee premiums for Texas educators are higher than their private sector counterparts, largely because state contributions have been frozen at $75 per employee per month since 2003. In recent attempts to make the program more affordable, benefits have been redesigned and enrollment has increased in the low-cost, high-deductible plan. Again, much like TRS-Care, legislative inaction has led to an insurance program for school district employees that is more burdensome than beneficial.
In November 2014, TRS released its TRS-Care Sustainability and TRS-ActiveCare Affordability Study that was commissioned by the 83rd legislature. The study outlines numerous options for the legislature to consider in dealing with the looming healthcare crisis for educators. Solutions to the problem are likely to be expensive for both the state and program participants, but ATPE will be urging the legislature to increase funding and to minimize the impact of any changes on both active employees and retirees.
ATPE's position: ATPE supports providing public school employees with high-quality, competitive health insurance benefits that are fully funded by the state at a level equal to or greater than the benefits provided to state employees.
Follow our blog here at Teach the Vote for the latest legislative developments related to this issue. ATPE members can also track pending bills related to healthcare benefits for educators funding by visiting Advocacy Central.
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE supports measures to shore up funding for educators' pension benefits through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). We urge the state to ensure the actuarial soundness of the TRS pension fund while maintaining its defined-benefit structure for current and future retirees. Lawmakers should also allocate sufficient funds to protect retirees' pension benefits against the erosion of their value due to inflation.
TRS was created in 1937 as a retirement system for Texas educators. The TRS pension fund is one of the largest, most stable, healthiest funds in the nation. It has more than 1.4 million members and net assets over $150 billion. (As of the third quarter of 2018, the trust fund for the TRS pension program was valued at $153 billion, according to documents shared at the Dec. 2018 TRS board meeting.)
TRS is a defined-benefit pension plan, with retirement benefits determined by a pre-established formula. Its defined-benefit structure provides predictable retirement income for educators. The average retiree receives a pension of approximately $2,000 per month while a classroom teacher with 30 plus years of teaching in Texas public schools receives a pension of approximately $4,000 per month.
There have been some proposals in recent years to convert TRS from a defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution plan, which would be similar to a 401(k) retirement plan in which benefits are not guaranteed. However, the sound management and healthy investment returns achieved by TRS demonstrate that TRS should be maintained in its current form as a defined-benefit plan. Research has also shown that converting TRS to a defined-contribution plan would cost the state more money. TRS is well-run, stable, reasonable, and cost-effective—in other words, what every Texan should expect from the management of state funds.
The TRS benefit package available to educators, though not rich, is a major recruitment and retention tool and entices qualified individuals to enter and remain in public education. TRS is also a robust economic engine. It affects more than one in every 20 Texans, generates $15.4 billion for the Texas economy, and creates and sustains more than 96,000 jobs (Teacher Retirement System of Texas: A Great Value for All Texans, June 2014).
The TRS pension fund is supported by a combination of employee and employer contributions and revenues derived from investing the TRS pension trust fund. In 2018, TRS board members took the fiscally prudent step of lowering what most financial experts agreed was an overly ambitious "assumed rate of return," a projection of how much the fund's investments are expected to grow. Lowering the assumed rate of return placed more emphasis on the need for more appropriate contribution rates into the TRS pension fund.
Currently, public school employees contribute 7.7 percent of their salaries to TRS, while the state contributes 6.8 percent of active educator compensation to TRS, and school districts contribute an additional 1.5 percent, for a combined employer contribution of 8.3 percent. The current contribution rates reflect increases approved by the legislature in 2013 and 2015 with ATPE's support in order to improve the actuarial health of the fund and make it possible to provide a modest cost-of-living adjustment for thousands of retirees. Despite the slight increases implemented earlier this decade, TRS still faces a shortfall because contribution rates have not kept up with increasing costs over time and the recent lowering of the assumed rate of return.
Based on the state's current contribution rate, Texas ranks 50th out of all 50 states in terms of contribution rates into its educator pension system. Among the states whose teachers don't participate in Social Security, Texas's contribution rate is less than half that of the next lowest state and represents only one-third of the median contribution rate. For too long, the state has underfunded TRS, and now is the time to reverse that trend. During the 86th legislative session, ATPE is urging lawmakers to increase contributions to TRS so that we can pay down its unfunded liabilities, provide retirees with much needed cost-of-living adjustments, and guarantee future generations of Texas educators a secure retirement.
This session, ATPE has partnered with Equable, a national nonprofit organization that works to facilitate retirement plan sustainability and income security, to promote pension reform bills that will address the TRS funding shortfall that is estimated to be at least $46 billion. Learn more about our efforts at PayTheBillTX.org.
ATPE's position: ATPE strongly believes that the state should maintain the existing defined-benefit pension structure provided to all current and future retirees.
ATPE supports the dedication of all available revenue to maintain the pension fund's actuarial soundness using contributions from the state, local school districts, and the educators who are system members. Doing so will help provide all active and retired TRS members with improved benefits, such as an annual cost-of-living increase for retirees. We support an increased state contribution rate, an increase in the retirement formula multiplier for educators who remain in the profession beyond their eligibility for full retirement, the establishment of TRS benefits comparable to state employee retirement benefits, and continued control of TRS funds at the state level.
ATPE also supports federal reforms to eliminate provisions that reduce retirement benefits of educators, and we oppose mandatory participation in Social Security for employees of public school districts in Texas.
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE supports educator compensation plans that are designed to foster a robust workforce at every Texas public school. We believe plans should be funded, sustainable, and built upon an adequate base with meaningful step increases to support the retention of strong educators. ATPE also supports using differentiated pay to reward educators who undertake advanced training or assume professional duties beyond their normal instructional activities. We oppose the use of student standardized test scores as the determining factor in educator compensation and employment decisions. Any state-driven compensation plan should allow for local development and flexibility, while encouraging input and buy-in from local educators. ATPE also believes that compensation plans should be aligned with aspects of the entire teaching pipeline, including rigorous educator preparation and certification standards, state-funded mentoring programs, evaluation systems that are fair and supportive, and stable, predictable retirement benefits.
Employment rights and benefits have a profound impact on whether great teachers stay in the classroom. Texas public school teachers generally receive less compensation than the national average, and there have been attempts to do away with laws that protect teachers' pay. For instance, some advocate replacing the state's minimum salary schedule with performance-based pay.
Teacher contracts are also a frequent target during legislative sessions, based on the misconception that it is too difficult to remove poor-performing teachers. In reality, Texas teachers do not enjoy tenure benefits that exist in other states, and they can be removed from employment with relative ease. Teacher contracts actually help schools and students as much as teachers; contracts insulate districts against costly litigation and help ensure continuity in the classroom, since teachers cannot simply walk off the job in the middle of a school year. When a Texas teacher's contract is non-renewed, it's usually because budget cuts have necessitated a reduction in force, or because the teacher received poor evaluations.
Some lawmakers believe that increases in teacher pay should be tied to student performance as measured by teacher evaluations. Under state law, evaluations are used to assess teachers' performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, prescribe supplemental training where necessary, and dismiss educators who are underperforming. Texas's prior state-recommended teacher evaluation system, the Professional Development and Appraisal System (PDAS), was criticized for its lack of emphasis on the performance of students taught by individual teachers. Critics also argued that the PDAS was flawed because it allowed an overwhelming majority of teachers to be deemed proficient and fails to provide meaningful feedback on how teachers might improve their performance.
Under the administration of former President Obama, the federal government pressured states during the past decade to use teacher evaluations that would treat student growth as a "significant" factor. Some states, such as Texas, were forced to change their teacher evaluation systems in order to qualify for needed waivers from the federal accountability laws under the No Child Left Behind Act. As a condition of the ESEA/NCLB waiver that the federal government granted Texas, our state spent years developing and piloting new teacher and principal evaluation models known as T-TESS and T-PESS. Under T-TESS, 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation was to be based on student growth. For teachers of state-tested grades and subjects, value-added modeling (VAM) was to be used to measure student growth by analyzing their students' STAAR test scores over time. It is controversial method, and ATPE has cautioned policymakers against using VAM at the individual teacher level for evaluations that may impact employment. Although helpful in providing data about performance at the campus level or higher, VAM is considered unreliable at the individual teacher level due to the limitations of standardized testing and access to sufficient longitudinal data. Furthermore, since approximately 70 percent of all teachers teach a subject or grade level in which there is no state standardized test, there are concerns about the fairness of using VAM for high-stakes employment decisions affecting some teachers and the possibility of creating a campus environment that is more competitive than collaborative.
Legislative issues of concern related to teacher evaluation include the resources made available to districts for implementation of new evaluation plans, the training and selection of appraisers, the frequency of teachers' observations, and the ways in which teachers' evaluation scores may be used. While evaluation is important, it is merely one element in a broad spectrum. To be useful, evaluation systems must work in conjunction with other comprehensive initiatives to selectively recruit and retain high-quality teachers, including programs to provide ongoing professional development of teachers and a compensation and benefits package that is both stable and competitive with other industries.
ATPE has been a steadfast leader in advocating for educator quality and equitable distribution of high-quality teachers across Texas public schools. For more on teacher quality and measures that can help Texas recruit and retain high-quality teachers, check out two studies on teacher quality commissioned by ATPE in 2008 and 2010. As in prior legislative sessions, we believe the 86th Legislature must take steps to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality teacher.
ATPE's positions: ATPE supports a certification process that ensures educators are appropriately trained and certified exclusively by the state. We oppose mandatory national certification. ATPE urges the state to increase the standards for entrance into the profession. We also recommend that the state fund programs to reduce the financial burden on teachers pursuing certification and initiatives to recruit and retain educators in shortage areas.
ATPE supports mandatory state-funded and research-based mentoring programs for beginning educators. We recommend that the state compensate mentors and give them sufficient training and resources to be successful. ATPE also supports professional development programs that are comprehensive, high-quality, affordable, and accessible to all school district personnel. We encourage the development of interactive professional development learning communities.
ATPE supports evaluations composed of multiple measures that will help identify teachers who are struggling and provide timely, meaningful feedback to all teachers. ATPE opposes the use of value-added modeling (VAM) at the individual teacher level for evaluations or employment decisions. We support incorporating student growth measures at the campus level or higher into evaluations as long as the measures are developed with educator input, piloted, and deemed statistically reliable. ATPE also supports the creation of evaluation standards for administrators that include a survey of campus staff.
We support improving educator compensation as a tool for recruitment and retention. Further, we support a career compensation and benefits package for all certified, licensed, and contracted public school employees with salaries that are equal to or greater than the national average and competitive with private industry. The state should employ a minimum salary schedule that provides for step increases over a 30-year period to recognize longevity in the profession. In addition to minimum salaries for professional and paraprofessional staff, ATPE supports differentiated pay for educators who undertake advanced training or other professional duties outside normal instructional activities. However, ATPE opposes performance pay programs unless they are equitably designed by educators on the campus. ATPE opposes using high-stakes standardized test scores as the primary determinant for educator compensation and employment.
ATPE supports vigorous enforcement of educator contract laws and due process for employment decisions. ATPE recommends that the state prohibit districts from reducing an employee's pay through the imposition of additional duties or extension of the school day, week, or year. The state should also prohibit districts from changing their local policies after teachers' deadline for resignation, if those changes would reduce educators' compensation or benefits. ATPE also supports due process protections for paraprofessional educators.
ATPE opposes the use of value-added modeling at the individual teacher level for teacher evaluation purposes or decisions about continued employment of teachers.
Follow our blog here at Teach the Vote for the latest legislative developments related to this issue. ATPE members can also track pending bills related to educator compensation and benefits by visiting Advocacy Central.
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE supports maintaining school employees' right to use payroll deduction for payment of their association dues at no cost to taxpayers ATPE opposes politically motivated efforts to take away school employees' right to use payroll deduction for safe, reliable, and convenient payment of voluntary association dues. Texas is a right-to-work state in which employees are free to choose whether to join a professional association at their own cost. Payroll deduction requires no taxpayer expense, and efforts to prohibit this practice serve only to hurt professional associations and demoralize the educators and other public servants who choose to join them.
In 2017, the legislature considered multiple politically-motivated bills aimed at eliminating some public employees' right to use payroll deduction for their professional association dues. ATPE and other public employee groups opposed the bills, which did not pass.
ATPE's position: ATPE supports state standards that establish fair and equitable payroll deduction policies.
OUR PRIORITY: ATPE opposes the privatization of public schools. We urge the legislature to reject any voucher, scholarship, tax credit, education savings account, or similar program that directs funding away from the public school system and toward unaccountable, often inferior educational settings. We also oppose using public tax dollars to pay private entities to operate Texas public schools and take over the authority and accountability that have been vested in locally elected school boards.
Private school vouchers, tuition tax credits, "taxpayer savings grants," and similar programs seek to direct public funds to private, home, or for-profit schools.
ATPE's position: ATPE opposes any program or initiative, tuition tax credit, or voucher system that would direct public funds to private, home, or for-profit virtual schools.
ATPE opposes the selective participation of home school and private school students in public school activities and classes, except through the Virtual School Network. We also oppose legislation that would require the University Interscholastic League (UIL) to open its membership to all private and home schools.
For additional information about privatization, check out our blog post, A voucher by any other name.
POLITICAL AD PAID FOR BY THE ASSOCIATION OF TEXAS PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS