This is the second post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.
At issue: The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) provides retirement benefits to public educators in Texas. It is a major recruitment and retention tool that attracts high-quality teachers to enter and remain in careers in Texas public education. With its current defined-benefit structure, TRS gives public educators who often are not highly compensated prior to retirement the security that they’ll have an income source when they retire. (Educators contribute a defined amount from their paychecks and upon retirement receive a formula-driven annuity based on experience and final average salary.) TRS also generates $14.7 billion for the Texas economy and creates and sustains more than 92,000 jobs (Teacher Retirement System of Texas: A Great Value for all Texans, April 2013).
Your retirement fund is at risk: There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that through prudent management, the TRS fund has become one of the highest-performing pension plans in the nation. Also, the 83rd Legislature made positive changes to preserve the solvency of the fund and allow for benefit increases. The bad news is that the size and healthy condition of the fund also make it a prime target for some individuals from the financial industry who want to privatize teacher retirement or convert TRS to a defined-contribution plan. Several bills have been filed in recent legislative sessions attempting to make such a change. In a defined-contribution plan, educators would be forced into a 401(k)-type situation in which their benefits are not guaranteed (as they are now) and they assume greater risk. Money managers in the private sector looking to make huge profits by overseeing individual educators’ contributions would be the people who benefited from such a change. Research has shown that such a move would be detrimental to our state in the long run and that most educators’ investment returns are likely to be smaller than they would be under a defined-benefit plan.
Know where your candidates stand on TRS: Following months of negotiations in 2013, most legislators ultimately voted for the TRS improvement bill that ATPE supported, and we were able to stop bills that would have converted TRS to a defined-contribution plan. But those same bills will be filed again, and we’ll need allies in the Legislature to help us protect your retirement. When you research the legislative candidates in your district on our 2014 Races page, open the Survey Responses section and check out how they responded to our fourth question about TRS. Are they committed to preserving the defined-benefit structure of TRS, or do they talk about taking government out of the equation and letting educators make their own investment choices, neglecting to mention the much greater risk? Pro-public education candidates understand the value of TRS and the importance of keeping its current structure intact.
Vote in the March primary for candidates who will fight for TRS: Many races will be decided by the Republican or Democratic primary happening right now, rather than the November general election. Be an informed primary voter, and use your vote to take a stand on TRS. Remember that you can vote early (through Friday, Feb. 28), or vote on election day, Tuesday, March 4.