SBEC and TRS boards meet, ATPE heads to D.C.

Today, June 12, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is attending the meeting and has provided this write-up about the business being discussed:

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

SBEC is meeting today to tackle a full agenda, which includes ongoing proposals as well as new issues resulting from bills passed during the legislative session. The board is postponing action on several agenda items related to bills that are waiting to be signed by Governor Greg Abbott. Those bills primarily pertain to new educator preparation requirements, but also affect a few issues on which the board has previously initiated the rulemaking procedure.

Among the action taken by the board today is final approval of a new fee structure for educator preparation programs (EPPs) and certification candidates. The fee structure raises several fees imposed on EPPs with regard to approval and accountability. Two fees involving the review of credentials for candidates seeking certification were slightly reduced. The board also approved a new traditional EPP, passing standards for certain certification exams, the accreditation statuses of all Texas EPPs (and most of the programs were fully accredited), and a phase-in of passing requirements on new Core Subjects EC-6 and Core Subjects 4-8 certification exams. Based on discussions initiated today, provisions affecting EPPs and EPP candidates will be a big discussion topic at upcoming SBEC meetings.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees also met June 11-12 in Austin. Among the items on its board agenda were TRS-related developments that came out of the 84th Legislature’s recently adjourned regular session. Lawmakers appropriated $768 million for TRS-Care in a supplemental appropriations bill, which means the TRS board need not consider any TRS-care premium increases in the near future. However, healthcare funding for active employees continues to be a problem area and was discussed at length during this week’s meetings. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended and provided the following update:

Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

The TRS Board of Trustees met Thursday and Friday of this week to discuss the adoption of ActiveCare premiums for the upcoming plan year.  Because of constantly rising healthcare costs and, more importantly, severe underfunding from the state legislature, active education employees have experienced high premium increases, causing many employees to enroll in the lower cost/lower coverage plan options, such as TRS ActiveCare 1-HD.   As such, the more comprehensive option, ActiveCare 2, is experiencing declining participation and costs the program the most money to maintain. Effectively, ActiveCare participants in lower cost plans subsidize participants in ActiveCare 2. Faced with these growing costs and underfunding issues, the TRS Board discussed the possibility of freezing enrollment in ActiveCare 2, allowing existing enrollees to continue coverage, but effectively eliminating the plan in the future. ATPE testified before the board to convey our opinion that the problem is not with the plan design, but instead with legislative decisions regarding funding. Further, we do not believe that restricting access to health insurance options is where the solution to the ActiveCare problems lies. We asked the board this week to delay a decision on ActiveCare 2 at least until the legislature has the opportunity to meet again and consider this issue. The TRS board agreed and pledged to work alongside education stakeholder groups urging the legislature to meet the funding obligations necessary to maintain a reasonable healthcare plan.  We thank the TRS Board and staff for their work on this issue and for reaching out to educators. This is an ongoing issue and it is critical that ATPE members engage their elected officials discussing the importance of increasing state funding for active employee health insurance.


Next week, members of the ATPE staff and state officers are traveling to Washington, D.C. for meetings to discuss education policy matters at the national level. ATPE’s Executive Director Gary Godsey, Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg, State President Richard Wiggins, and State Vice-President Cory Colby are expected to meet with several members of Congress and their staffs. They will be joined by ATPE’s Washington-based team of contract lobbyists. Topics that ATPE plans to address during the meetings include pending efforts to reauthorize the long-overdue Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and to reform the federal Social Security offset laws that have the effect of limiting educators’ retirement benefits. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week from the nation’s capital.

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3 thoughts on “SBEC and TRS boards meet, ATPE heads to D.C.

  1. Deann

    Thanks, Kate. EPPs are so vitally important to our kids. We’ve got to have quality and rigor in our programs. Josh, THANK YOU for the victory on Active Care 2! (@ least for now) You’re 100% correct that the issue is the Leg’s lack of funding!!!! Rrrr!!!!
    Wish I could be in DC. You know how I LOVE to talk reauthorization!!!!!

    Reply
  2. Jerry

    Thank you to both Kate and Josh, and to ATPE for keeping members informed. My wife and I are both member educators and have been on ActiveCare2 for years. You are correct that the problem isn’t with the plan, but with the funding. Wouldn’t it be cheaper on taxpayers in the long run if educators were grouped together with ALL state employees to get a better deal on health coverage? We are paid by the state via our ISDs, so it makes sense to me.
    Another issue I’d like to see addressed in future legislative sessions is increasing the educator pay schedule. As veteran teachers, my wife and I both make less every year because we have already topped-out of the 20-year-plus schedule. COLA and insurance are cutting into our salaries more and more each year.
    Thanks for all you do on behalf of Texas educators. And thanks for the opportunity to add my voice to the discussion.

    Reply
    1. Josh Sanderson

      Jerry:

      We have had discussions with the legislature about the prospect of including public education employees with state employees for years. The problem here is that to bring pub ed employees benefits up to the level of benefits state employees receive would take a massive infusion of money, which is very simply what we need in our current situation to make ActiveCare more reasonable. The healthcare actuary who works with TRS has explained that adding more people to the pool of participants does nothing at this point to help us leverage or negotiate with providers; we have effectively already reached critical mass in this regard. There is no change in the structure of the program that is going to bring costs down significantly. In regards to the pay scale, since 2011 the legislature has been attempting to move in the exact opposite direction of extending the salary schedule. See SB 893 from the most recent legislative session, which attempted to eliminate the minimum salary schedule all together. These two issues and the problems involved with them stem from one cause, and that is there are not enough public education-friendly officials being elected to office. Instead of fighting to make improvements we are typically fighting off attempts to weaken public education and educators’ rights and benefits.

      Reply

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