Category Archives: Funding

Sunset report recommends TRS improve its member relations

Every state agency in Texas is subject to a period review by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. When the state creates a new agency, it usually sets a “sunset” date. This is the date when the agency will cease to exist unless the commission decides it should continue. Even agencies that are created by the Texas Constitution and cannot be abolished, such as the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas, undergo cyclical review by the Sunset Advisory Commission to determine ways they can improve and operate more efficiently.

The TRS Sunset Report was released last week, as we reported last Friday here on Teach the Vote. While much of the report addresses standard sunset fare such as integrating best practices and improving transparency and oversight, one issue identified in the report seems likely to resonate with TRS members above the rest: “TRS Needs to Repair Its Relationship With Its Members by Focusing on Their Needs.”

Excerpt from the 2020-21 Sunset Staff Report on TRS

Sunset commission staff points out in the report, “While TRS has a critical fiduciary duty to manage the $157 billion trust fund in the best interest of its members, the agency also has an important responsibility to ensure its members have the support and information needed to be secure in retirement.”

The report goes on to state that in the Sunset Advisory Commission staff’s estimation:

“TRS’ benefit counseling options do not meet members’ needs… TRS has not provided the information and support its members need to be secure in retirement, with overly complex explanations, insufficient retirement information, and inadequate counseling options… TRS also does not provide enough member-friendly financial planning information to ensure members understand what they need to prepare for retirement, such as the importance of additional savings beyond their TRS pension benefits.”

Sunset staff identify core issues and findings, as well as recommendations to address them. In considering sunset recommendations and weighing their merit, it is important to consider that implementing new programs and initiatives comes at a cost, mostly in additional manpower. For TRS, those costs are paid directly out of the same trust fund that provides member benefits.

The sunset staff’s first finding related to the issue of repairing TRS’ relationship with its members is that the agency “has not provided the information and support members need to adequately ensure they are secure in retirement.” With 1.6 million members, most of whom have limited or no access to Social Security benefits and little other retirement savings outside of their TRS pension, simply managing the TRS trust assets and administering pension payments is not good enough without taking a more holistic role in helping TRS members prepare for a secure retirement.

This is particularly true when considering that Texas is last in the country in the percentage of payroll our state puts toward teacher retirement. The state does not provide mandatory cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) on a regular basis and rarely provides funding for even one-time COLAs. Together, these legislatively driven policies mean that a TRS pension alone often will not provide a comfortable — or potentially even adequate — retirement over the duration of an average educator’s retired years.

This makes it even more important for Texas educators to understand the importance of having a supplemental retirement plan and to begin funding that plan early in their careers. Sunset staff point out that other state retirement systems, including the Employees Retirement System (ERS) for Texas state employees, “emphasize retirement planning is a shared responsibility between members and the system.” On the other hand, the report observes that TRS “puts the burden of navigating the complex retirement system primarily on its members.”

To make matters worse, TRS appears to have serious deficiencies communicating in the areas where it does currently engage with its members on retirement issues. Regarding the agency’s written materials, sunset staff found that TRS commonly uses legalistic language and overly complex explanations. While call times have come down significantly, TRS has not yet met its internal goal of answering 80% of calls within three minutes. More troubling, when agency staff do answer a call, internal policy prevents most TRS phone counselors from relaying basic information such as a member’s account balance or estimated retirement benefits — not to mention explanations of how systems such as TRS and Social Security are supposed to interact, which often leaves TRS members confused and frustrated.

To receive more complete information on their TRS benefits, a member must make an appointment — often months in advance — and then travel to Austin for an in-person consultation. Thankfully, TRS is looking into opening a limited number of field offices to do in-person consultations in the future so that some members will not have to make the trek to Austin. Why the agency is only now contemplating this option is somewhat baffling. (TRS has been offering member consultations via video conferencing during the current shutdown period that has been caused by the coronavirus pandemic.)

In order to address these issues, sunset commission staff recommend that the legislature require TRS to develop a communications and outreach plan to help members prepare for retirement. Sunset staff also recommend, with regard to other issues identified in the report, that TRS engage stakeholders and adopt a member engagement policy. Also, the legislature should consider incorporating  recommendations for required stakeholder engagement into the development of TRS’ communications plan.

Continuing on the issue of repairing its relationship with its members by focusing on their needs, the sunset report also recommends that TRS improve its communications with employers, improve  efforts to return contributions to inactive members, and adopt a member engagement policy to increase transparency on key decisions.

The commission staff found that many, if not most, employers of TRS members report that the system TRS uses to collect payroll and other information from them is cumbersome and “plagued with problems,” even three years after its launch. TRS should attempt to resolve the problems with its reporting system and do a better job of providing troubleshooting for employers that are trying to work around such problems until they are resolved.

Sunset staff also suggest that TRS provide employers and education service centers (ESCs) with training so that school districts and ESCs can help educate TRS members (school employees) on retirement and healthcare issues. While this sounds good in theory, as districts certainly have more access to their own employees than TRS ever will, I am skeptical of most districts’ desire to take on this additional responsibility. Prior to pursuing this recommendation, TRS should communicate with school district leaders to determine if districts would actually utilize any such training or tools TRS might create for them. Policymakers should also consider whether such a communications strategy might be duplicative or confusing for TRS members.

The sunset staff further recommend that TRS be more proactive in returning contributions to inactive members. However, additional effort on the agency’s part has an administrative and staffing cost. Therefore, in considering this sunset recommendation, TRS and the legislature should work to balance the needs of members leaving the retirement system with those who will remain in it.

Certainly, educators have a right to redeem the contributions they have put into the system if they leave it; however, they also bear some responsibility for being aware of their own money. TRS currently sends a refund application to members who have not requested a refund on their own when their membership automatically terminates after seven years of inactivity under Texas law.The report’s description of contributions being “forfeited” after seven years of inactivity could lead some to believe that former members lose the ability to redeem their contributions at some point. In fact, former TRS members remain eligible to withdraw their funds at any time, before or after the seven year mark.

As the sunset staff noted, federal law prohibits TRS from automatically returning funds to an inactive member. Should active and retired members bear the cost of additional staff, the use of credit reporting agencies, or sending out thousands of pieces of certified mail to track down long-time inactive members who have failed to claim their own money?

Finally, the sunset report recommends that TRS “adopt a member engagement policy to increase transparency on key decisions.” Generally speaking, this is an excellent idea. A policy that incorporates increased use of expanded stakeholder groups and a better methodology for clear and timely two-way communication could go along way toward improving TRS functions and educators’  perceptions of the agency. However, it is important that any legislative action around this recommendation stay focused on the broader context of improving overall communications between TRS and its members.

Unfortunately, legislators might end up focusing only on issues surrounding TRS’ abandoned decision to lease a particular property to house its investment division. If this happens, discussions could easily become mired in attempts to assign blame around this single, high-profile issue. Rather, the legislature should consider a more positive approach of trying to holistically improve TRS’ communications and engagement with and trust among its members.

No fooling, it’s Census Day!

We all know that April 1 is April Fool’s Day, but did you know that every 10 years it is also Census Day? Today we celebrate the counting of all people living in the United States in order to fulfill a requirement of the U.S. Constitution. Without a proper counting, it would be impossible to uphold the ideals of our representative democracy and all of the benefits, especially to public education, that come with it.

The 2020 Census faces a hurdle this year as the nation progressively shuts down due to the novel coronavirus. The U.S. Census Bureau has delayed the timeline and rollout of communications to individuals in order to keep human-to-human contact to a minimum. Fortunately, for the first time ever, the census questionnaire can be completed online. As of yesterday, the U.S. census response rate is 36.2% and the Texas response rate is 31.3%, with the majority of responses completed online. While Texas ranks quite low across the nation in response rate, we also have vast expanses of land and many households and individuals with limited internet access. Check out the map below to explore current census response rates in Texas and the nation.

See the full map at www.censushardtocountmaps2020.us

Though the timeline has been adjusted due to the pandemic, every household should receive an invitation by today. Likewise, the Census Bureau expects to get population counts to the president and to states on schedule, which are important for U.S. House seats and redistricting purposes. Unfortunately, those living in group quarters (college students, nursing homes, etc.), experiencing homelessness, or living in remote areas or areas without an address will be contacted or counted in person later in the year. This delay in timing to hand-delivery of packets and in-person counts could deal a hard hit to Texas, as a large portion of the state relies on this method of contact to be counted.

Initial contact modes for 2020 Census in Texas. (source)

The census is no joke! As explained in this earlier post on Teach the Vote, the 2020 Census is crucial to public education funding for low-income students and students with special needs, as well as many other federally-funded programs that help to support families and children. Census-statistic derived funding also helps to support entire communities as it drives dollars to public necessities such as roads and emergency services. While participating in online meetings and classes, virtual happy hours, and digital chats with friends and family, make sure to mention the census. By pushing online and completion by phone options, we can stay on track to get an accurate count.

Looking for more resources to use with your colleagues, friends, family, and students? The U.S. Census Bureau website is a great resource for learning about how to respond to the census. Additionally, the website has been updated to address new concerns such as college students who are now home due to school closures (they should be counted as if they were still at their college, FYI). For lesson content, educators can download free lesson materials and activities, created by teachers for teachers, on this site. Find more information and FAQs on responding to the census, check out this post previously featured on Teach the Vote.

Before we go and prank the dog (since there is nobody else around), please be aware of these reminders:

  • You don’t have to receive an invitation to go ahead and complete your census questionnaire online or by phone.
  • There is NO citizenship question.
  • Your response to the census, by law, cannot be shared with law enforcement and is only used for statistical purposes.

Happy Census-ing!

BREAKING: Congress passes third stimulus bill for coronavirus relief

A third Federal stimulus package addressing the COVID-19 pandemic has been passed by both houses of Congress. Known as the CARES Act, the wide-ranging package is the largest stimulus package, in terms of absolute dollars, in US history. President Donald Trump has indicated that he will quickly sign the bill into law.

Members of Congress hope the bill, which impacts nearly every American, will stabilize the U.S. economy in addition to providing support to medical providers and local governments as they attempt to address the coronavirus pandemic. It includes $13.5 billion in aid for K-12 schools, as well as direct relief payments to individuals who earn less than $75,000.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for follow-up posts on the specific provisions of the bill likely to impact public education and educators.

2020 Census: FAQs and coronavirus

Have you completed your 2020 Census questionnaire yet?

As of today, over 11 million people living in the United States completed their census questionnaire. An accurate census count is crucial to funding in Texas that supports infrastructure, public schools, healthcare, and other services. In this post, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier shares answers to commonly asked questions about the census, including the impact of COVID-19 on this census collection.

I haven’t received my invitation in the mail yet. When will I get it?

Invitations are being sent out to 140 million U.S. households from March 12-20. About 5% of the country will be visited in-person by a census enumerator because mail is not delivered to physical addresses in those areas.

Can I take the census if I haven’t received my invitation?

Yes, you can! If you are home due to concerns with COVID-19 and have access to the internet, now is a great time to fill out your census questionnaire, and you don’t have to wait on the mail (or touch the mail).

How do I complete the census? Is it available in non-English languages?

The online portal at my2020census.gov is a secure website that will walk you through the census, even if you haven’t received your invitation in the mail yet. The online questionnaire is translatable into 13 different languages, and the Census Bureau also has guides in 59 non-English languages, including American Sign Language, Braille, and large print. Individuals also have the opportunity to fill out the paper-based census questionnaire, which in areas with limited internet will be mailed with the initial invitation. The Census Bureau will send out reminders during the summer to non-responders that will include a paid-postage envelope and a paper questionnaire. Individuals can also respond by phone.

How do I fill out the race, ethnicity, and origin questions on the census?

An individual’s answers to the race, ethnicity, and origin questions are based on how they self-identify. In the series of race/ethnicity/origin questions, the census will first ask about Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin and notes that these are not considered racial categories. Individuals who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish will be required to also choose a racial category (White, Black or African American, etc.) and write-in an origin. This can be confusing for those who already stated their origin in the Hispanic/Latino/Spanish question. A good rule of thumb is to simply answer as you identify and to not worry about your answers being right or wrong.

Is there a citizenship question?

No, there is not a citizenship question on the census.

Is taking the census safe? Can the information I provide be used against me?

The Census Bureau is prohibited by law from releasing identifying information to any entity, including law enforcement. The online website is secure, but beware of scams. Make sure you are using the website that has the “.gov” address before starting the questionnaire.

How will COVID-19 impact the census collection?

The Census Bureau is actively monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and modifying its protocols as necessary. Currently, they are working on changes to cover some of the harder-to-count populations, since these often require in-person visits. Additionally, in-person visits to non-responders have been pushed later into April. According to news released today, field operations for the census have been suspended until April 1. As the situation develops, the Bureau will continue to make changes as necessary to protect the health of census workers and of the general public. The Bureau is urging everyone to take the census online, by mail, or by phone as early as possible.

For more information and a full list of FAQs about the census, please visit 2020census.gov. Also, don’t forget to check out texascounts.org for specific information regarding the census in Texas, as well as tool kits and other helpful resources.

Please also visit ATPE’s coronavirus FAQ and resource page for more information about COVID-19 and its impact on educators and education.

Texas public schools are counting on the 2020 Census

Check your mailbox today. Did you get a 2020 Census invitation?

By April 1, 2020, all households will receive an invitation to complete the 2020 U.S. Census, which determines many important factors of daily life, including funding for children, representation in Congress, and federal assistance for public necessities such as roads and emergency services. Invitations are being delivered between March 12-20. From March 30-April 1, the Census Bureau will count individuals experiencing homelessness, and in April, census workers will visit universities, nursing homes, and others who live in large groups. See a full timeline here.

The census is foundational to our democratic way of life in the United States. In fact, a decennial (every ten years) population count is required by the U.S. Constitution to ensure fair representation of everyone living in the United States. The number of representatives assigned to each state in the U.S. House of Representatives is based off census counts. Big and rapidly growing states like Texas rely on the census to make sure our voices are heard (proudly and loudly) in Washington, D.C. – we are projected to add two or three U.S. representatives to the Texas delegation after this census because of population growth. State and local officials also use the census results, which break down population by tracts of land, to draw boundaries for congressional districts, state legislative districts, State Board of Education districts, and school districts.

Example of 2020 Census questions. Source: 2020census.gov

The census counts every person living in the U.S. once, and your response to the questionnaire is required by law. The 2020 census includes 12 questions that will collect very basic data about households as of April 1, 2020, including size and type of household (house, apartment, mobile home), telephone number, and the race, ethnicity, age, and sex of each person living in the household. Find a sample of the 2020 census here. There is NO citizenship question. By law, the U.S. Census Bureau is not allowed to release personal information, even to law enforcement.

In 2018, Texas received over $1.3 billion dollars in Title I funding, which is based on census counts. Out of the $43 billion in total census-derived funding Texas received in 2018, our students also benefited from $1.4 billion in National School Lunch Program funds and billions more for health insurance, special education, foster care, early childhood education, child care, and other nutritional programs. All of these essential programs are at stake – even just a 1% undercount could cost the state $300 million.

Census-statistic derived federal aid to Texas, 2018. Source: CPPP

For the first time ever, the census can be completed online. Alternative methods such as by phone and mail are also still available. The census website features easy-to-understand resources about completing the census, including considerations for special circumstances facing families today, such as homelessness.

Hard-to-count areas represented with darker colors. Source: City University of New York

It is important to get an accurate count because public schools are legally required to educate ALL students and rely on federal funding tied to population numbers. The census counts everyone living in the U.S., including citizens, non-citizen legal residents and long-term visitors, and undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately, an estimated 25% of Texans and 30% of Texas children live in areas that are considered hard-to-count. These individuals are often hard to contact, locate, survey, and/or engage because of a variety of factors such as language barriers, lack of stable housing, or distrust of the government.

Texas Counts is a community hub that provides several resources for educators, schools, and districts related to get-out-the-count efforts. Since public schools educate all children, they are poised to reach families in unique ways to help promote completion of the census, dispel myths, and ease minds. Educators can also check out the resources on the U.S. Census website, which include lessons and other ways to make the census relevant to students at this crucial time.

 

Rural schools get a temporary reprieve on loss of federal funds

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has backed down, at least temporarily, on her department’s plan to cut federal resources currently flowing to more than 800 low-income rural schools. The move comes after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter in opposition to the plan this week. The announcement also follows the secretary’s appearance at a tense congressional hearing on Feb. 27 to defend the Trump Administration’s education budget proposal.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before a U.S. House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Feb. 27, 2020.

The proposed cut in federal funding was due to the department’s decision to change its internal rules on the type of poverty data it would accept to determine eligibility for the Rural Low-Income Schools Program (RLIS). The program is one of two sub-grants under the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP), which senators who who wrote the letter to DeVos describe as “the only dedicated federal funding stream to help rural schools overcome the increased expenses caused by geographic isolation.”

Under REAP, which was enacted in 2002, school districts seeking RLIS grant funding would prove their eligibility based on census poverty data. However, upon recognizing in 2003 that adequate census data often was not available to the districts the act was meant to help, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) changed its course. By rule, ED began to allow school districts to substitute census data with the same internal data on the percentage of their students eligible for free and reduced lunch, which is used to determine Title I eligibility. The department has allowed the use of this substitute data ever since.

After receiving significant legislative push-back to the proposed change, ED has shied away from making the change for now. As reported by Bloomberg Government, a spokesperson for the department explained the rationale for the change as follows:

“We have heard from States the adjustment time is simply too short, and the Secretary has always sought to provide needed flexibility to States’ [sic] during transitions. This protects States and their students from financial harm for which they had not planned.” The spokesperson added, “[D]ue to the States’ reliance on the Department’s calculations for the past seventeen years, the secretary has concluded the Department can use its authority to allow alternative poverty data to be used for an additional year.”

Clearly, ED is still positioning itself to be able to make this change in the future, which would negatively affect hundreds of rural schools short of some additional action by Congress or the administration. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for future updates from ATPE’s federal lobby team.

Another poll shows strong support for public education

On the heels of a voter survey conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune regarding state funding for public education (republished on Teach the Vote here), the Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) Foundation has also released a new statewide poll this week about Texans’ attitudes toward public education. Both polls show support for public schools and educators with a desire for increased funding of public education.

The RYHT Foundation poll found that 77 percent of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers, and 70 percent believe that teacher pay is too low. The poll also showed that 60 percent of the Texans responding were concerned that our state’s standardized tests may not effectively measure student learning. Half the respondents said they were not confident that Texas’s “A through F” accountability grading system accurately represents school quality. The poll also asked respondents about the top challenges they believe teachers are facing, the biggest problems affecting the public schools in their communities, and what their feelings are about wraparound supports for students, such as mental health services.

In a press release from RYHT, Foundation President Shari Albright said, “We’re pleased to be the first organization in the country to commit to an annual statewide poll about public education issues.” Albright added, “We thought it important to provide this service to Texans on an annual basis, both to understand the challenges and help find ways to improve our public schools.”

Read complete results and additional information about the new RYHT Foundation poll here.

From The Texas Tribune: Most Texans want lower property taxes and more school spending, UT/TT Poll finds

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
Feb. 17, 2020

Illustration by Emily Albracht/The Texas Tribune

Texas voters still think that property taxes are too high and that the state spends too little on public education, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Local property taxes are a key source of funding for public education, and last year’s Texas legislative session was focused on those two issues. Lawmakers sought to increase the state’s share of public education spending and to increase incentives for local school districts to hold down property tax increases.

A majority of Texas voters said they pay too much in property taxes. Only 5% said they pay too little, and 26% said Texans pay about the right amount. Among Democrats, 45% said the property tax tab is too high; 63% of independents and 59% of Republicans said so. The “too much” number among all voters has dropped to 54%, compared with 60% in the June 2019 UT/TT Poll, but remains a majority view.

Overall, 50% of Texas voters said the state spends too little on public education, while 12% said spending is too high and 21% said it’s about right. Democrats, at 69%, were most likely to say spending is too low. Among Republicans, 32% agreed, but another 32% said spending is about right. Only 19% of Republicans said public education spending is too high.

“The results are slightly more positive on property taxes, stagnant on public education,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. The overall on property taxes hasn’t changed dramatically, however. “It’s an article of faith that taxes are too high,” Blank said. “It would take a pretty drastic change for that attitude to move.”

A plurality of Texans gave good grades to the quality of public education in the state. A total of 46% rated it “excellent” or “good,” while 42% rated it “not very good” or “terrible.” Praise was stronger in Republican quarters, where grades for the schools were 55% good and 34% bad. Among Democrats, the good-to-bad split was 41-47.

Most Texans, 54%, said the state government here is a good model for other states to follow, and they gave relatively positive ratings to two of the state’s top three leaders. Almost half of the voters said Gov. Greg Abbott is doing a good job in office, while 34% disapprove of the work he’s been doing. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick won approval from 39% and disapproval from 35%, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was given good marks by 19% and bad ones by 27%. Bonnen, caught on tape last year plotting against some of his fellow Republicans in the House, isn’t seeking another term in the Legislature.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points, and an overall margin of error of +/- 4.09 percentage points for Democratic trial ballots. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Reference
University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, February 2020 – Day 2 summary
(199.2 KB) DOWNLOAD

Reference
University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, February 2020 – Methodology
(61.9 KB) DOWNLOAD

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/02/17/most-texans-want-lower-property-taxes-and-more-school-spending-poll-fi/.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 7, 2020

Check out what happened this week in education news from Texas and the nation’s capital, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Voting in the Texas primary elections will begin in less than two weeks. Early voting starts February 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day, and ends February 28. Our state’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020.

This week on our blog, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter shared information about education-related recommendations in the ballot propositions being put to voters by the Texas Republican and Democratic Parties in this primary election. The ballot propositions help each political party fine-tune its platform based on views expressed by voters in the primary election on various issues. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins looked at some of the latest campaign fundraising news, takeaways from the Iowa caucuses earlier this week, and more in his election roundup blog post from yesterday.

With the primary elections inching closer, ATPE is focusing on helping educators find resources that will help them learn more about the candidates vying for their votes. Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education in 2020 by viewing their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include candidates’ responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey, legislators’ voting records, campaign contact information, and additional information. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project and share information for their profiles that appear on Teach the Vote. Watch this new instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote.

For additional resources to help you prepare for early voting, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com, or attend one of the “For the Future” education-themed candidate forums being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details on the events.


FEDERAL UPDATE: President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday, the third of his presidency. In the speech, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports for Teach the Vote, the president expressed his opposition to public schools and called on Congress to pass a school voucher bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The bill in question, S. 634, proposes to divert taxpayer dollars that may otherwise go to public education away from local schools and use those tax dollars to subsidize private and for-profit programs. The president cast public schools disparagingly as “failing government schools.” It’s worth noting the Texas Constitution guarantees a right to a free public education as being key to a healthy democratic society, and our state has a long history of independent school districts run by the communities they serve. ATPE’s Wiggins spoke to the Houston Chronicle and previewed the president’s remarks on Tuesday in this blog post.


Last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 included a Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) intended to provide additional funding to school districts that create an incentive pay system for teachers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that districts interested in creating a TIA program were asked to submit letters of intent to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) by January 24 of this year. Anecdotal reports indicate that more than 700 of the state’s over 1,000 school districts have responded to date. TEA is implementing this initiative with a series of presentations to stakeholders around the state, and the agency is expected to publish rules in March 2020.

ATPE successfully lobbied the 86th Legislature to ensure that districts would not be required to use the STAAR test to measure teacher performance as part of a TIA program, but questions remain over the degree to which these programs may rely on student test scores. We will be paying close attention during the rulemaking process to see how these programs are allowed to be structured in order to qualify for the additional state funding. You can read more about TIA programs from TEA here.


Members of the ATPE Governmental Relations team gave a presentation on advocacy at this week’s Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Convention and Exposition in Austin. Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell, Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier spoke to attendees about the implementation of major bills passed in 2019, what’s at stake in the 2020 elections, and ways educators can get involved in advocacy efforts.

ATPE lobbyists Wiggins, Mitchell, Exter, and Chevalier at the TCEA Convention, Feb. 4, 2020

TRS is coming to town

The board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will convene in Austin for its last board meeting of the year starting Thursday morning, Dec. 12, 2019, and wrapping up Friday afternoon, Dec. 13.

The proceedings will begin at 8 a.m. Thursday with meetings of the following board committees: the Strategic Planning Committee; the Benefits Committee; the Budget Committee; the Investment Management Committee (IMD); the Policy Committee; and the Audit, Compliance, and Ethics Committee. Committee agendas can be found at the links above. After the committee meetings conclude, the full board will convene briefly before going into executive session for the rest of the afternoon. On Friday morning, the full board will reconvene and take up its public agenda.

After taking public comments and making some recognitions, the board will discuss TRS space planning needs, including where the agency may be housed in the future. Other items on the agenda include a review of the TRS Pension Trust Fund Actuarial Valuation for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2019, and consideration of adopting the funding policy for the TRS pension fund. The funding policy is a written plan that provides a road map for how TRS can get to 100 percent funding of its pension liabilities and includes consideration of how and when TRS might provide a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retirees

It’s important to note that actuarial soundness and being 100% funded are not based on the same metric. The fund is considered actuarially sound under state law when its funding period is below 31 years, at which point TRS has typically been funded at around the 80 percent level. However, there is not an exact correlation between the number of years it takes to reach full funding and the percentage at which TRS is funded.

Click here to access links to the livestream of the Thursday and Friday TRS meetings.