Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

School finance commission discusses list of recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday at the Texas Capitol to hear recommendations from the working group on expenditures, which is led by House Public Education Committee chairman and state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston).

School finance commission meeting September 25, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath began the hearing by presenting the agency’s annual report, which purported to show an increase in education funding since 2007. Responding to questions from commission members, Morath conceded that the numbers were not adjusted for inflation.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) asked Morath to explain the dispute between the General Land Office (GLO) and the State Board of Education (SBOE) over public education funding. Morath stated that through the School Land Board (SLB), the GLO sent $750 million to public education for the last biennium. The GLO only sent $600 million for this biennium, bypassing the SBOE, and representing a roughly $150-190 million decrease in funding.

Sen. Bettencourt appeared to come down on the side of the SBOE in the dispute. SBOE Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) suggested that the dispute will require a legislative fix. The entire SBOE sent a letter asking GLO Commissioner George P. Bush to reconsider the action and increase funding, but Bush refused to do so.

Commission Chair Scott Brister suggested that on the big question, whether to increase public school funding is not up to the commission. Member Ellis rightly pointed out that while it’s true the legislature is the only body that can appropriate funds, it is certainly the commission’s duty to discern what appropriate funding levels are and to make recommendations accordingly. This point was backed up by Austin ISD CFO Nicole Conley Johnson.

Brister added that the commission will require a half dozen meetings in November and December in order to finalize its report.

Rep. Huberty then walked the commission through a list of 22 recommendations from the working group on expenditures, beginning with reallocating cost of education index (CEI) funds. The recommendations are as follows:

Reallocations of existing funding:

  1. Reallocate cost of education funds. The CEI was last updated in 1991 and provides adjustment for cost of educating children in different parts of the state. Huberty argued that this formula is outdated and that funding could be rerouted to add $2.9 billion to the basic allotment.
  2. Reallocate Chapter 41 hold harmless funds worth $30 million annually.
  3. Reallocate Chapter 41 early agreement credit funds for an annual savings of $50 million.
  4. Reallocate gifted and talented allotment funds worth $165 million annually. Rep. Huberty and state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) emphasized that gifted and talented (GT) programs will not go away. Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Doug Killian cautioned that districts could come to view GT programs as an unfunded mandate, and suggested weighting GT funding instead. Todd Williams also voiced concern that eliminating dedicated GT funding could lead districts to underidentify GT students as a way to cut costs.
  5. Reallocate high school allotment funds worth $400 million annually.
  6. Move from prior year to current year property values worth $1.8 billion. Huberty suggested that this would more accurately reflect the current needs of school districts. Killian cautioned that this change will cost Pflugerville, which is a fast-growth district, $22.7 million in the first year. Conley Johnson added that this could add uncertainty to the budgeting process for districts.

Increased spending on existing programs:

  1. Increase compensatory education allotment from 0.2 to a spectrum of between 0.225 and 0.275, based on the concentration of severely challenged students. This would be worth $1.1-1.2 billion. Commissioner members engaged in a lengthy discussion on identifying metrics with which to identify need other than qualification for federal free and reduced lunches.
  2. Change the transportation allotment to a mileage-based approach based on at least $0.80 cents per mile appropriated by the legislature.
  3. Provide transportation funding to Chapter 41 districts, at an annual cost of $60 million.
  4. Recreate the small- and mid-size district adjustments as a standalone allotment, at an estimated cost of $0-400 million. Rep. Huberty argued that this would create more transparency.
  5. Increase the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA) to $100 million per year, which would be a direct benefit to fast-growth school districts.
  6. Expand career and technical education (CTE) funding to 6th through 8th grades, at an annual cost of $20 million.

New programs:

  1. Create a new dual language allotment at 0.15, at an annual cost of $15-50 million. This is aimed to incentivize schools to transition from bilingual to more effective dual language programs.
  2. Create a new dyslexia allotment of 0.1, at an annual cost of $100 million. Currently districts do not receive direct funding for students with dyslexia, despite the fact the number of dyslexic students in Texas is estimated to be anywhere from 2.5 to more than ten percent.
  3. Create a new early childhood support allotment of 0.1, at an annual cost of $786 million. This would benefit students from kindergarten through 3rd grade, and could be used to fund any program that seeks to improve 3rd grade math and reading, including full-day pre-K.
  4. Create a 3rd grade reading bonus of 0.4, at an annual cost of $400 million. This is a simple incentive for students to meet grade level in 3rd grade reading. Williams suggested granting students facing social or economic challenges a greater reward.
  5. Create a college, career, and military readiness bonus at an annual cost of $400 million. This would provide additional funding for each graduating senior who does not require remediation after graduation or who is able to directly enter the workforce or military. This is intended to support the state’s “60×30” goals.
  6. Create a new teacher compensation program, at an annual cost of $100 million. This is a merit-based pay program that would allow certain educators to earn more by performing well on certain evaluation systems. Teachers would also be rewarded for teaching at campuses with higher levels of disadvantaged students. This program could grow significantly in size depending upon district participation. Williams acknowledged that local development involving teachers is incredibly important, and measures other than student STAAR results should be considered. Williams suggested it would be incumbent on the commissioner to develop a set of minimum standards.
  7. Create an extended year incentive program at an annual cost of $50 million. This would be aimed to reduce summer learning losses.

Additional changes:

  1. Utilize remaining funds from reallocations to increase the basic allotment.
  2. Change the guaranteed yield on tier II copper pennies from a set dollar amount to a percentage of the basic allotment.
  3. Link the tier II golden penny yield to a set percentile of wealth per student.

Many of these recommendations were also supported by recommendations from the working group on outcomes, led by Todd Williams. Williams congratulated Huberty on his working group’s efforts to find more efficient ways to provide the support students need, and added that the system will nonetheless need more money. In a final conversation around spending, Brister continued to suggest that more funding is not necessarily the solution. Member Ellis emphasized that the commission must address the adequacy of public education funding.

The working group on revenues, led by Sen. Bettencourt, is now the only working group yet to produce recommendations. Bettencourt pushed back on warnings that time is running short for the commission to complete its work, but did not provide a timeline for his work product.

 

 

Recap: SD 19 upset significantly alters Senate math

An upset victory by Republican Pete Flores in the Senate District (SD 19) special runoff election last night will have a significant impact on the balance of power in the Texas Senate. It’s also a wake-up call.

Flores, a retired game warden, beat the Democratic favorite, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, in Tuesday’s special runoff election to finish the unexpired term of Democratic state Sen. Carlos Uresti, who resigned earlier this year in scandal. That seat will now move to the Republican column until at least 2020, when Flores will come up for reelection.

There were warning signs early on that the SD 19 race would likely be close. The district has historically elected Democratic state senators, and broke for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016 by a margin of 11.5 percent. Yet just two years earlier during the 2014 mid-term elections, Republican Greg Abbott edged Democrat Wendy Davis in SD 19 by 0.1 percent in the gubernatorial race, and Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn outpaced Democratic challenger David Alameel by 7.3 percent.

The timing of Sen. Uresti’s resignation allowed Gov. Abbott to set a special election in the middle of summer, guaranteeing a low-turnout special election that would mitigate Democrats’ general election advantage and allow the race to turn on whichever party could do a better job of getting out the vote (GOTV).

For context, SD 19 recorded 478,000 registered voters in 2016. Based on that number, roughly 5.4 percent of voters participated in the July 31 special election and 9.2 percent turned out for the September 18 special runoff. By contrast, turnout in SD 19 for the 2016 presidential election was 52.7 percent, and turnout for the 2014 mid-term elections was 27.7 percent.

As we previously reported on Teach the Vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was keen to flip the SD 19 seat from blue to red in order to boost his party’s mathematical advantage in the Texas Senate. The lieutenant governor and his allies spent a prodigious amount of money in support of Flores between the special election and the special runoff. We’ll take a closer look at that spending as the official figures become available.

All of this had an appreciable effect on the final outcome. According to the Texas Secretary of State, roughly 26,000 people voted in the July 31 special election. More than 44,000 voted in the September 18 special runoff election — representing a 69.75 percent increase in turnout. Flores ultimately won with 53 percent of the vote, compared to 47 percent for Gallego.

So what does this mean?

Immediately, it means that the Texas Senate is now composed of 21 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Under the current 3/5 rule, the lieutenant governor only needs 19 votes for his party to pass major legislation, which in the recent past has included voucher bills aimed at stripping public school funding and anti-teacher payroll deduction bills. These bills passed the Texas Senate largely along party-line votes. As its newest member, Flores brings to the Senate an alliance with Lt. Gov. Patrick and his openly expressed support for private school vouchers.

Furthermore, outgoing state Sen. Sylvia Garcia’s (D-Houston) failure to effectively secure a clear retirement date means that the 2019 legislative session will begin with a vacant seat, for a total of 21 Republicans and 9 Democrats in the Senate. Voters in SD 6 will choose Garcia’s successor in another special election that will be held while the legislature is in session next spring. Until then, only 18 votes will be needed to pass major legislation out of the upper chamber.

At the 30,000-foot level, Tuesday’s outcome in San Antonio highlights the importance of two things: First, the November elections are of even more critical importance. Second, turnout is paramount.

While it’s easy to think of elections in terms of Democrats versus Republicans, this discounts the reality that many Republican officeholders — even some in the Senate — support public education. The challenge is that Senate Republicans are under an enormous amount of pressure from the lieutenant governor to cast anti-education votes. The surest path to helping them is to change the math by electing senators who are not beholden to the lieutenant governor.

Of course, electing pro-public education candidates means showing up. Make no mistake, the forces trying to defund and privatize our neighborhood schools do not suffer from voter apathy. They are capable of raising and spending countless millions of dollars in order to motivate low-information voters to turn out and vote against their own interests and those of their children. The only way to fight back is to ensure that you and everyone you know makes it to the polls this November to cast an informed vote for public education.

To put it simply: If we don’t vote, we will lose.

If that happens, not only do we lose, but our schools and our kids lose as well. The result of the special runoff election Tuesday came as a surprise to many, but it should not come as a shock. It should serve as a reminder of the powers at play and the stakes of sitting out.

 

 

SBOE wraps meeting with strong statement on school funding

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) concluded its September meeting Friday with final votes on a number of subjects.

SBOE meeting September 14, 2018.

One of the first orders of business was to approve a draft of the Long-Range Plan for Public Education (LRP). The board will delay final approval until the November meeting in order to give stakeholders longer to review the plan and changes suggested by the board Tuesday night. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) voiced concern that the board was under pressure from the office of Gov. Greg Abbott to remove the recommendation in favor of “formula funded full-day pre-K.”

The board also approved Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies, as well as streamlining changes to the social studies TEKSMembers also voted on a number of items from each committee, including finalizing a rejection of problematic rules proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would have negatively affected teacher quality. Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) concluded discussion by pointing out that if certain areas are having trouble hiring teachers, the remedy should be more pay — not weakening standards. The SBEC will have a chance to fix the rule and submit changes to the SBOE in November.

Members also finalized a letter to the General Land Office (GLO) regarding a dispute over funding that could short schools roughly $450 million over the next biennium. The board voted unanimously to request the GLO reconsider its actions and provide an additional $500 million in funding for schools.

The board concluded with its annual ethics training. The next meeting is scheduled for November.

 

Why November is important: It’s the maths, y’all

Politics involves a lot of math.

A candidate needs fifty percent of voters plus one in order to get elected to office. The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days, but can’t pass legislation until 60 of those days have passed – unless acting upon an emergency item declared by the governor.

Here’s another equation for you:

The Texas Senate consists of 31 members and requires a vote of three-fifths of those present and voting to pass most major legislation. That means if everyone is present, a bill needs the support of 19 senators to pass. In the current makeup of the Texas Senate, 20 are Republicans and 11 are Democrats.

This actually is an important bit of math for supporters of public education.

In the past legislative session alone, we’ve seen legislation harmful to public education pass along largely party line votes under the direction of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. This includes voucher bills to strip funding from public schools in order to create taxpayer-funded subsidies for private schools. It also includes payroll deduction bills designed to rob teachers of their influence at the Capitol by making it more difficult to join educator associations such as ATPE.

A recent article by the Texas Tribune put the Senate math in the context of the 2018 general election, and pointed out that the outcomes of a handful of races this November could have some very significant ramifications when it comes to the next legislative session.

Multiple senators who voted for vouchers and against teachers last session are currently up for reelection and facing serious challenges this November. The Texas Tribune highlighted three of the most high-profile races in which sitting senators now find themselves in the hot seat, in large part due to their past anti-public education votes: Sens. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), and Joan Huffman (R-Houston).

If just one of those incumbents lose their race, a single Republican could defy the lieutenant governor and stop a voucher bill in its tracks. If two are defeated, the lieutenant governor won’t have enough votes to force through anti-education bills along party lines as he did last session.

In the latter case, members would be forced to work across party lines – and the balance of power would shift away from the lieutenant governor, giving individual members more freedom to vote in the interests of their constituents, rather than party leaders.

There’s also a twist.

The special runoff election underway this week to fill the Senate District 19 seat previously held by a Democrat has attracted the lieutenant governor’s attention; Lt. Gov. Patrick knows flipping that seat would change the math again. That’s why it’s no surprise to see Patrick loudly campaigning for the pro-voucher Republican candidate running in that San Antonio-area special election that will be decided on Tuesday, Sept. 18:

Also, an unresolved dispute between Gov. Greg Abbott and retiring Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) means the 2019 legislative session will begin with the Senate one seat short. That lowers the magic number for passing bills via one party’s super-majority to only 18.

It’s tempting to look at this all in terms of “Rs” and “Ds,” but that ignores important issues like public education, where there are Republicans who disagree with the lieutenant governor, but either don’t number enough to overcome the magic number or fear the lieutenant governor’s current absolute power. Changing the math changes both.

File it under the list of reasons this upcoming general election is important. Maybe your friends aren’t the type to get hyped up about voting. Maybe they just don’t find elections that exciting. I offer an alternative appeal:

Math!

Now that’s exciting!

SBOE committee rejects problematic SBEC rule

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met in committees Thursday morning to discuss a variety of subjects prior to Friday’s meeting of the full board.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before SBOE Committee on School Initiatives.

The Committee on School Initiatives considered a rule change proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) regarding an abbreviated path for a certificate in trade and industrial workforce training.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against the proposed SBEC rule, which proposed to add certificates in marketing and health sciences to an abbreviated pathway for earning a trade and industrial workforce training certificate created by House Bill (HB) 3349. Along with other concerns, the addition of the two certificates falls well outside the scope of the enacting legislation and carries negative consequences with regard to teacher quality.

This is important particularly because of the interaction with certification by examination, which would allow those who have obtained an abbreviated certificate in one of these subjects to test into additional teaching certifications without the baseline 300 hours of training, including in pedagogy, that is assumed by the certification by examination statute. This would likely have deleterious effects upon teacher quality, which is the most single most critical factor impacting student outcomes.

Several other educator organizations joined with ATPE in asking the committee to reject the rule in its current form and allow the SBEC to produce a rule that maintains high standards for certified teachers and is more in line with statute. While acknowledging the good intentions behind the rule, the committee voted unanimously to reject the rule change, citing concerns over the process and a desire to safeguard high teacher standards.

 

SBOE chides GLO in school funding dispute

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) spent most of its Wednesday meeting dealing with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies, including an Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies course. As part of the streamlining process for social studies TEKS, the board unanimously adopted verbiage to clarify a section relating to Alamo heroes that had recently become the focus of political and media attention.

SBOE meeting September 12, 2018.

The board approved a number of revisions offered by stakeholders to the TEKS for Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies on second reading and final adoption. The board also approved a number of streamlining revisions on first reading to the social studies TEKS.

In addition to reviewing curriculum, the board approved the permanent school fund (PSF) distribution for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 at a rate of 2.75 percent. Staff had recommended setting a rate of 2.38 percent to 2.75 percent, which is less than previously anticipated because of actions taken by the General Land Office (GLO).

According to staff, the GLO distributed $600 million for the next biennium directly to the available school fund (ASF) instead of to the PSF, which is unusual and limited the amount of funding the GLO could provide. Staff testified this impeded the board’s ability to provide additional school funds through its PSF oversight authority. At a distribution rate of 2.75 percent, staff said districts would receive roughly $225 million less per year than through the normal process.

Several board members, including Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) and Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) raised serious concern over the GLO’s actions. Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) led the board in submitting a letter to the GLO requesting the agency reconsider its actions. Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) invited Land Commissioner George P. Bush to personally deliver news of a reversal at the board’s November meeting. Member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) suggested asking the GLO to provide an additional $500 million in order to cover inflation and enrollment growth to safeguard intergenerational equity.

 

 

Commissioner updates SBOE on SpEd, contracting, budget

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) opened its Wednesday meeting with an update from Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

The commissioner began by praising the board’s work on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, and suggested that there is significant overlap with the agency’s own strategic plan.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath testifying before the SBOE, September 12, 2018.

Morath caught members up to speed on the recent debate over a cosmetology course, and indicated that the course is not expected to go away. The commissioner testified he asked staff to look into ways to ameliorate the high cost of the associated licensure.

Regarding special education, Morath claimed progress in a number of areas. The commissioner said the agency has accomplished more than half of the items under the corrective action plan. The agency was tasked with setting up a large field apparatus, and 70 percent of 55 vacant positions have been filled, including all leadership positions. Justin Porter, who helped write the corrective action plan, is the special education director.

A total of 14 grants have been posted, and an additional five have been completed internally and will be finished within the next couple months. Statements of work have been drafted for 15 of the contracts related to strategic plan.

On a separate but related note, Commissioner Morath acknowledged recent contracting issues that resulted in a rebuke from the Texas State Auditor’s office, while defending staff involved. Morath state that starting in November of last year, the agency initiated a top-to-bottom review of contracting practices.

With regard to the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR), in which the agency submits its budget requests for the next biennium to the Texas Legislature, Morath noted that the agency is requesting two exceptional items. These consist of $50 million to support districts providing compensatory services in order to comply with the special education corrective action plan, and roughly $50 million for health and safety, $20 million of which is aligned to the governor’s school safety plan.

The commissioner then offered a review of “A through F” school district ratings, which were released in August. Additionally, Morath noted that the state saw a one-year reduction of 247 “improvement required” (IR) campuses. This marks the last set of campus ratings under the “met standard” or IR labeling system, and campuses will instead receive A-F ratings next August.

Finally, Commissioner Morath briefed members on the first TEA annual report on the state of public education in Texas and solicited feedback from members. Relating to teacher recruitment and retention, Morath noted board members will receive a briefing on the Texas lesson study initiative tomorrow.

SBOE begins September meeting with social studies TEKS

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its September meeting Tuesday with a lengthy day of public testimony regarding revisions to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies.

SBOE meeting September 11, 2018.

Some of the commentary came in response to edits to the portion addressing the Alamo that received a significant amount of news coverage and political attention over the past several days. A member of the TEKS review team, which is composed of educators who are experts in the subject matter and volunteer their time, explained the reasoning behind the edits and suggested the extraordinary attention was due to a misreading of the team’s notes, as well as a lack of outreach to team members for clarification. He offered an alternative phrasing that would satisfy all parties’ concerns, and which board members seemed amenable to adopting.

Testimony also focused on the proper way to treat slavery as the cause of Texas’s secession in the Civil War period, as well as how to discuss the role of religion, specifically Moses, as it pertains to the framing of the U.S. Constitution.

The board concluded the meeting with a discussion of the Long-Range Plan (LRP) for Public Education, which sets the state’s educational goals through the year 2030 and was released Monday. The LRP Steering Committee held ten in-person community meetings and solicited feedback from thousands of stakeholders via an online survey. Educators, parents, and community leaders were consulted at every step of the way. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, who has followed the plan’s development for more than a year, lauded the board for an inclusive and thoughtful process that gave meaningful consideration to input from educators.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifying before SBOE.

Wiggins offered a number of broad recommendations to perfect the plan, including adding language to increase the rigor of Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs). Wiggins also cautioned the board that when discussing programs that aim to place top tier teachers in schools with large numbers of at-risk students by offering differentiated pay, it’s important to ensure that the evaluation programs used to identify those top tier teachers are not based upon student test scores. Wiggins also suggested that due to the short period of time stakeholders have had to evaluate the LRP, the board would be justified in postponing final approval.

Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) introduced a number of perfecting amendments, many of which addressed elements of ATPE’s general recommendations. The board discussed allowing the public more time to review the proposed amendments before voting on final adoption at the November meeting.

House report focuses on school safety resources

The House Committee on Public Education released its preliminary school safety report this week, the result of several hearings on the matter held over the course of the summer.

The full report, which can be read here, joins similar reports released by the Senate and Gov. Greg Abbott. The House report is notable in that it focuses on providing state funding to ensure schools have the resources to prevent future tragedies such as the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

The office of committee chairman state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) highlights specific funding recommendations for the following:

  • Increasing the number of counselors, psychologists and social workers available to students;
  • Increasing the amount of training received by school personnel, including threat
    assessment, Mental Health First Aid and training related to emergency operations;
  • Studying communication interoperability among schools, law enforcement and first
    responders;
  • Improving the integration of mental health services and student access to these
    services, especially in underserved areas.

“As we look for ways to improve school safety, we need to find a balance between making campuses safe but also healthy learning environments,” Chairman Huberty said in a press release. “Our students deserve to have schools where they feel safe but not imprisoned. The state can assist these efforts by providing resources for more school counselors and increased student access to mental health services, in addition to campus safety improvements and increased law enforcement or school marshals.”

“In the long run, we are better off spending resources on trying to prevent such tragedies rather than just being prepared for the next one to happen,” Chairman Huberty added.

The 14-page report includes suggestions under the topics of mental health and well-being, school mental health professionals, school safety planning and training, school security infrastructure, and law enforcement resources. You can read the full recommendations by clicking here.

ATPE testifies on educator healthcare

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III, which oversees the public education budget, met Wednesday at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges related to TRS-Care. Chairman Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) began by noting the roughly $1 billion shortfall facing the system heading into the 2017 legislative session, which lawmakers only partially filled. Without those funds, the system would have been insolvent. The program faces another shortfall heading into the 2019 session, which begins in January.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before House Appropriations Article III Subcommittee September 5, 2018.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas Executive Director Brian Guthrie estimated that the fiscal year ending in 2021 will face a roughly $410 million shortfall, which is down from previous projections. Guthrie explained that TRS-Care is funded as a percentage of payroll, which is not growing at the same rate as health care costs. This is the fundamental reason why TRS-Care has begun to face repeated shortfalls. Retirees have born additional costs as a result of the underfunding, and roughly 30,000 have chosen to leave the program because they can no longer afford to participate.

Guthrie suggested that the best case scenario for TRS-Care would be for the legislature to appropriate an amount more than is needed to simply keep the fund solvent, the excess of which could become the corpus of an investment fund that would be able to provide long-term funding stability, similar to the TRS pension trust fund.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter credited the House and Chairman Ashby in particular for preventing the collapse of TRS-Care last session. Exter suggested allocating additional dollars to the base funding formulas for TRS-Care, as opposed to providing supplemental funding each biennium. Exter shared a story from a retiree whose incontinence medication shot up to $500 after the most recent TRS-Care changes. To that end, Exter suggested expanding the list of free and near-free medications, particularly in maintenance drug categories. In addition, allowing retirees access to café plans or health savings accounts (HSA) would allow retirees to allocate tax-deferred dollars on the front to help with budgeting towards their annual deductible. Finally, Exter noted that preventing retirees from leaving TRS-Care or banning them from returning after testing other private plans violates free market principles and harms consumers.

Beyond TRS-Care, Exter warned of problems associated with TRS-ActiveCare and the pain experienced by active educators who are seeing health care costs rise more quickly than their paychecks. The 86th Texas Legislature will also be faced with issues relating to the TRS pension fund. Both will vie with TRS-Care for attention and resources.

Chairman Ashby indicated that the changes to TRS-Care have generated enormous attention, and voiced optimism that this will lead to positive outcomes for both active and retired educators’ health care next session.