Category Archives: TRS

Senate Finance Committee takes up public education funding in Article III of the budget

On Monday, Feb. 11, the Senate Finance committee heard testimony from the state agencies affected by Article III, the education portion of the state budget. Excluding those representing higher education, the committee heard from representatives of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) opened the hearing with the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) layout of the TEA budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

Sen. Nelson’s budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, proposes approximately $6 billion in the TEA portion over current formula funding, including $3.7 billion for an educator pay raise and $2.3 billion for property tax relief.

Several members of the committee voiced displeasure with what they view as a mischaracterization by many in the public that the state’s share of education funding has fallen to 38 percent. The members noted that this figure only represents the state’s share of Foundation School Program (FSP) funding and that there are other state dollars being spent on public education outside of the FSP. To be fair, it is true that the 38 percent figure specifically refers to the state’s share of FSP funding and that the state also pays into other sources of school district funding, such as for facilities and TRS. However, the local share of facilities funding, for example, is much greater than the percentage that local districts pay toward FSP funding. Also, educators and school districts pay a significant percent of the money going to TRS for pension contributions and health insurance costs.

Senators also pointed out that they don’t control local property tax rates or rising property values, which under current law have pushed state general revenue funds out of public education. Both of these facts are true, but again, lawmakers have failed to modify existing formulas to drive increased state spending above what current law requires. This effectively starves public schools, leaving locally elected school boards little option but to maintain or raise their local property tax rates.

Following testimony of the LBB, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath walked the committee through the TEA presentation. The commissioner highlighted agency funding requests to deal with school safety and the agency’s special education corrective plan. The latter was necessitated by recent enforcement actions by the U.S. Department of Education and a ruling out of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, both highlighting our state’s failure to properly address the needs of its special education population.

The commissioner’s testimony included a lengthy back and forth discussion with committee members on Monday. Chairwoman Nelson engaged Commissioner Morath on the topic of third-grade reading, an emphasis in the final recommendations of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Responding to questions about STAAR and third-grade retention, Morath pointed out that grade retention, which is no longer a mandatory result of failure to pass STAAR in the younger grades, is neither an efficient expenditure of money nor a particularly effective remediation tool.

When asked about the dual management of the Permanent School Fund, which has recently resulted in a feud between the Texas Land Commissioner and the State Board of Education (SBOE), the commissioner indicated that the current set-up probably costs the fund around $200 million a year in lost investment opportunities. Finally, in an exchange with senators about boosting performance among the state’s low socioeconomic student population, the commissioner touted the benefits of funding pre-kindergarten and Dallas ISD’s ACE model.

Next in the committee, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie laid out his agency’s presentation on the budget. He covered the TRS board’s action in lowering the pension fund’s assumed rate of return and the need for increased contributions to bring the fund back into near-term actuarial soundness. He also covered state cost issues related to TRS-Care and the educator affordability issues related to TRS-ActiveCare. Guthrie reiterated his agency’s request for additional staff, some of whom would be used to increase TRS customer service, while other positions would be used to bring additional investment management tasks in-house, for a projected savings of $1.4 billion over a five-year period.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who in addition to serving on the Finance Committee chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee, had a lengthy discussion with Mr. Guthrie. She covered last session’s TRS-Care bill, which she authored in the Senate, as well as the need for additional funding in the current budget and the need for continued reform to prevent the state from being right back in the situation it was in last session with runaway costs. Huffman then turned her attention to the pension system and discussed her plan to pass legislation that would increase contributions to the fund over a number of years. Her plan would reduce the funding period of the pension from 87 years down to 24 years and bring the plan back into a condition of actuarial soundness by 2020. Currently, the plan will not reach actuarial soundness or be able to offer retirees a cost-of-living adjustment for approximately 57 years.

After the committee concluded hearing testimony from the invited agencies, public testimony was entertained, including from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter. Exter’s testimony focused on funding teacher compensation, the TRS pension system, and educator healthcare. He concluded by encouraging the committee to focus on equity when addressing new discretionary spending and deciding how best to go about reducing recapture and property taxes. Exter’s full testimony can be seen here (at the 2:40 mark in the broadcast).

House Appropriations hears from TEA and TRS

The House Committee on Appropriations met Monday to hear from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) on the issues of school safety, school finance, the teacher pension system, and active and retiree educator health insurance. Before delving into the meat of the hearing, Cmomittee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulsher) also announced membership of the subcommittees that will be overseeing separate subject areas of the budget.

The subcommittee on Article III that oversees public education funding will be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, and include Vice-chair Armando Walle and Reps. Mary Gonzalez, Donna Howard, Matt Schaefer, Carl Sherman, Lynn Stucky, and Gary VanDeaver.

House Appropriations Committee meeting Feb. 4, 2019

Other subcommittees include: the subcommittee on Articles I, IV, V; the subcommittee on Article II; the subcommittee on Articles VI, VII, VIII; and a new subcommittee on  Infrastructure, Resiliency, and Investment.

The committee heard first from Texas Education  Commissioner Mike Morath on the topic of school safety, including physical precautions such as metal detectors and alarms. Morath noted there is no single investment in school safety that will address all current weaknesses and that the agency isn’t and hasn’t traditionally been tasked or resourced to help districts with regard to mental health components of school safety.

TEA’s Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez followed with a high-level overview of how public schools are funded. Lopez explained how the basics of tax rates, weights, allotments, and adjustments work to together to create a districts M&O entitlement; facilities funding; charter funding; and recapture. Also mentioned during the discussion were statutory quirks and system complexities like the fact that the basic allotment is set in statute, but legislators each session have the option of funding at higher levels through the appropriations bill. The committee also discussed how in 2011 the legislature created a mechanism called the Regular Program Adjustment Factor that allows lawmakers to decrease the entire Foundation School Program (FSP) entitlement for every district with a single adjustment.

TR) Executive Director Brian Guthrie walked committee members through pension fund operations. Guthrie explained the TRS board’s decision to lower the assumed rate of return last summer to 7.25 percent down from 8 percent, which came as a result of market forecasts and input from the fund’s actuary. This caused the funding period for pension fund liabilities to extend from 32 years up to 87 years. Under state law, the TRS fund cannot offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to retirees unless the amortization period noted above is within 31 years.

Guthrie noted that the agency is requesting a 1.8 percent increase in the contribution rate in order to achieve a 30-year amortization period, which would allow for the possibility of a future increase in benefits, such as a COLA. This would cost $1.6 billion for the biennium from all funds.

Responding to a question from Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Guthrie estimated the average pension payment for a TRS annuitant to be about $2,000 per month. This average figure covers all classes of public education employees, including auxiliary staff, such as bus drivers and custodial staff. For classroom teachers who have worked in Texas schools for 30 years, that amount is closer to $4,000 per month.

Guthrie then explained the healthcare programs under the agency’s umbrella: TRS-Care for retired educators and TRS-ActiveCare for active educators. Healthcare costs have skyrocketed in Texas, despite rising at a level slightly below the national average. This resulted in a $1 billion shortfall for TRS-Care heading into the previous legislative session, which was addressed by a temporary infusion of additional state funding, coupled with a significant increase in fees and reduction in benefits. The fund continues to run at a deficit.

Rep. Schaefer asked what impact a pay increase would have on the pension fund. Guthrie indicated that if all teachers saw a raise, there would be a negative short-term impact for TRS as a result of higher salary calculations for retiring members without the benefit of higher contributions. Guthrie suggested this could be mitigated by phasing in the salary increases’ impact on the calculation of a member’s highest five years of earnings. Guthrie suggested the short-term impact on TRS-Care would be positive.

Asked by Rep. Stucky how much it would cost to make TRS-Care sustainable, Guthrie suggested it would take more than $12-15 billion to create a corpus sufficient to produce funding as a result of investment returns. Even then, that process would take some time to get up and running. The deteriorating value of TRS-Care has led many retirees to leave the program, which exacerbates the financial stresses facing it. Guthrie added that the population was beginning to stabilize.

TRS-ActiveCare, which allows smaller and mid-size school districts to enjoy the benefits of group coverage through a combined risk pool, also faces affordability challenges due to statutory restrictions on how that program is funded. Five percent of districts – primarily the state’s largest districts, such as Austin and Houston – have opted out of TRS-ActiveCare. Last session, legislation was considered to allow districts a one-time opportunity to opt in or opt out, but such a bill was not passed ultimately.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 14, 2018

From school finance and retirement to school accountability ratings, here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations department:


School finance commission meeting Dec. 11, 2018

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met on Tuesday of this week to begin deliberating recommendations for the body’s final report due at the end of this month. Among the suggestions discussed Tuesday were (1) outcomes-based funding hinged upon early literacy and student preparedness for entrance into college, the military, or a career field without remediation; and (2) a high-quality teacher allotment that would require school districts to develop local, multi-measure assessments of their educators. Those assessments would need to comply with criteria outlined by the legislature.

While some members of the commission bristled this week at the idea of requesting more funding from the legislature, others, including House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble), stated that he would refuse to sign a report that did not request more funding. Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), chair of the commission’s working group on revenues, suggested that the full commission adopt Gov. Abbott’s plan to cap property taxes at 2.5% annually. Meanwhile, Leo Lopez, Chief Finance Officer for the Texas Education Agency, pointed out during Tuesday’s hearing that the governor’s plan is more of a property tax relief plan than a school finance reform plan.

A more detailed breakdown of Tuesday’s meeting can be found in this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Other recommendations in the commission’s draft report, which can be previewed here, include prioritizing the state’s “60×30” goal, which is to have 60 percent of high school graduates eligible to enter the workforce with an industry certification, successfully join the military, or enter college without the need for remediation by the year 2030. More technical recommendations include reallocating $5.34 billion in existing revenues and revising the current weights and allotments in order to boost the basic allotment, which provides a baseline of funding for all 5.4 million school children in Texas. Throughout the commission’s year of deliberations, scores of education stakeholders and experts have shared their input, including invited testimony from ATPE back in February.

The commission will meet once more on Wednesday, Dec. 19, to vote on its final recommendations before submitting its report to the legislature as required on or before Dec. 31. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the final vote.


The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin at the TRS headquarters on Thursday, Dec. 13, and Friday, Dec. 14, for its final meeting of 2018. Board committees met on Thursday. Each committee’s meeting materials can be found below. The full board met Friday morning to consider the following agenda. Video of the board committee meetings and the full board meeting is also available for viewing.

For additional information, view the following TRS board meeting materials:


Today the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) released an updated Pension Benefit Design Study. This recent study augments the body of knowledge generated by a 2012 study on the pension program for Texas educators. The updated study released today by TRS outlines benefits and statistics about the pension system, and includes such findings as these, which are in line with ATPE’s positions on TRS:

• A total of 96 percent of public school employees do not participate in Social Security. For many TRS members, the only source of lifetime income in retirement is their TRS benefit. A lifetime benefit helps mitigate the risk of a retiree who — due to longevity, market volatility or failure to invest adequately — outlives his or her savings.

• A majority of TRS members would end up more financially at-risk by investing on their own in a plan with a defined-contribution component.

• The TRS benefit, as currently designed, replaces roughly 69 percent of a career employee’s pre-retirement income when that person initially retires.

• Alternate plans would be 30 to 124 percent more expensive than the current defined benefit plan to provide the same benefit level upon an employee’s retirement.

More information about the study can be found in this TRS press release, along with a one-pager about the pension program. The full text of the new report can be accessed here.

Preserving the integrity and solvency of the TRS defined-benefit pension plan for educators is one of ATPE’s priorities for the 86th legislature.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released its final academic accountability ratings for the 2018 year. The ratings include results for 1,200 school districts and charters and over 8,700 campuses within the state. While preliminary ratings were released in August, this final release includes the ratings of districts and charters that contested their initial ratings. More information about the accountability ratings can be found here. To search the ratings by district or campus, visit TXschools.org 

 


 

12 Days of Voting: Retirement

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at retirement.


Everyone who decides to become an educator enters into a special agreement with the State of Texas. It goes something like this: If you devote your life to preparing our children for the future, Texas promises to be there for you when you retire at the end of a long career of service.

Only that promise is constantly under attack.

Let’s start with some basics. Your retirement is administered by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), which oversees the pension trust fund. The state and individual educators each contribute to the fund, and a team of professional staff supervise a diverse investment portfolio that makes up the body of the fund. These full-time agency employees ensure the fund’s health and safety. After paying for the cost of administration and benefits, the money from those investments is plowed right back into the fund.

TRS is structured as a “defined benefit” retirement plan, which means that an individual who pays into the plan is guaranteed a set amount of money each month in retirement that will last for the rest of his or her life. The more common type of retirement plan is a “defined contribution” plan, such as a 401(k). Unlike the promise of a stable monthly pension check upon retirement offered by a defined benefit plan, a defined contribution plan promises merely a set contribution into an employee’s retirement account while the individual is actively working. Investment returns on that account are subject to the whims of the market. The level of retirement security that can be provided by those funds at the end of an educator’s career is not guaranteed. Under a defined contribution scenario, there is a real threat that a retired educator may outlive the retirement funds accumulated during his or her career, and end up with nowhere to turn for help — not even Social Security.

You may have noticed that most businesses in the private sector have gone the defined contribution route. The reason is largely because 401(k) plans are cheaper and don’t require dedicated staff to administer. Most are run for a profit by large Wall Street corporations, and advisers often have a financial stake in the investments they recommend. This leaves plenty of opportunities for others to make money, but little guarantee of stable retirement income for the retiree. The defined benefit plan administered by TRS is, by contrast, of great value to retirees, who can rest easier knowing that they will receive a guaranteed income for as long as they are alive.

As with most big pots of public money, the TRS pension fund has unfortunately become the focus of those looking to brag about shrinking government while making a few bucks for their friends.

In 2017, the Texas Senate confirmed Josh McGee as chairman of the Texas Pension Review Board (PRB), which oversees state pension systems including TRS. Prior to being appointed to that position by Gov. Greg Abbott, McGee worked as a professional advocate for converting public pensions to defined contribution plans that would reduce the money guaranteed to retirees, and his position at the helm of PRB naturally raised alarm bells.

Adding to the concern, lawmakers have filed a number of bills in 2017 and in prior legislative sessions that would likewise weaken TRS. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) – who made headlines recently with his objections to efforts to improve voter turnout among educators – filed a pair of bills last year aimed at converting TRS from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan or a hybrid of the two. Both bills died without a hearing, fortunately, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is keeping the idea alive as part of his interim charges for the Texas Senate to study before the legislature reconvenes in 2019.

Most troubling is the decision by the TRS Board of Trustees to lower the assumed rate of return for the $147 billion pension fund from 8.0 percent down to 7.25 percent. The decision was based on observations of current market forces, and while fiscally prudent, it radically changes the plan’s outlook on paper. Like all pension plans, the TRS fund must be considered solvent before the legislature or board can consider any potential increases in benefits. With the lower assumed rate of return, TRS will head into the 2019 legislative session needing an additional $1.5 billion for future solvency, and they’ll be asking for that money from lawmakers who frequently are looking to cut spending, not increase it.

Politicians like Sen. Bettencourt frame their attacks on educators’ pensions by claiming the defined benefit structure is too expensive for the state to maintain into the future. In fact, the state’s share of an educator’s pension (at 6.8 percent) is less than half the teacher retirement contribution rate set by the next lowest state that is not paying into Social Security. The truth is that a more conservative assumed rate of return, coupled with a proper contribution rate, will guarantee TRS stays healthy well into the future.

The bottom line: Like public education as a whole, Texas gets a phenomenal bargain for what it spends, but more funding is necessary to fully realize the implicit promise made to educators.

Lawmakers will face tremendous pressure in 2019 from investors and politicians who want to gamble with teachers’ retirement. Unless Texans elect more pro-public education lawmakers and statewide elected officials, the legislature may very well look to your pension as an area to further cut corners. Texas will only keep its promise to educators if lawmakers respect educators’ voices at the polls in this pivotal election year.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 21, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


The Board of Trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) met this week to discuss such topics as premiums for the state’s healthcare plan for retired educators. After receiving a more favorable update on the estimated shortfall for TRS-Care and hearing lawmakers indicate that the legislature will provide needed funding, the board intends to try to keep premiums and benefits stable. Read more about the board’s discussions this week in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


Senator-elect Pete Flores (R-San Antonio)

Voters in Senate District 19 turned out for a special election runoff on Tuesday to decide who will represent them in the Texas Senate until the 2020 elections. Gathering 53% of the vote, Republican Pete Flores was the race’s clear winner and will be filling the seat left vacant by former Sen. Carlos Uresti who resigned this year.

Flores’s win flips the seat long held by Democrats into the Republican column heading into the 2019 legislative session. The change makes it that much easier for the upper chamber’s Republican super-majority to pass Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s agenda, especially with another Democratic vacancy generated by the anticipated race to replace Senate District 6’s Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is running for Congress. Garcia’s seat would not be filled until a special election occurs well after next year’s legislative session begins.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down how this impacts the upcoming legislative session and what it means for contests in the November election in this blog post.

 


Are you already registered to vote? If so, don’t stop there…  take the next step!

Tuesday, September 25 is National Voter Registration Day, and thousands of volunteers across the U.S. will be mobilized to help others register to vote and get informed about elections. Perhaps if you’re already to vote you can go the extra mile by asking friends and family if they’ve registered and reminding them of these important dates:

  • The deadline to register to vote in November is Oct. 9, 2018.
  • Early voting runs Oct. 22-Nov. 2, 2018.
  • Election Day is Nov. 6, 2018. 

You can also encourage your friends and family to check out the Candidates section of TeachtheVote.org for more information on the candidates vying for seats in the Texas House, Texas Senate, State Board of Education, Governor, or Lieutenant Governor.

The first Friday of early voting, Oct. 26, is Student Voting Day in Texas. Encourage the students you know to get registered and participate in the upcoming election. Voting is more than just a civic duty; it’s how we work together to create positive change in our communities and its important that we get everyone involved.

 


No action is good action: TRS committee takes no action on TRS-Care premiums

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees is meeting today and tomorrow. This morning, TRS Chief Healthcare Officer Katrina Daniel updated the board’s Benefits Committee on the most recent fund balance shortfall for TRS-Care. Today’s update noted that as a result of several positive factors, that shortfall has fallen to approximately $240 million for fiscal year  2021, the second year of the upcoming biennium.

TRS-Care had already moved in a substantially positive direction by the time the agency laid out its legislative appropriations request (LAR) last week. The LAR had incorporated the shortfall, which was estimated to be $410 million as of June 30, 2018.

Since June, TRS has made significant progress in contract negotiations with Humana, the current third-party administrator of TRS-Care Medicare Advantage. The new contract will result in considerable additional savings to TRS-Care that brings the shortfall down to the approximately $240 million mark discussed today.

Based on the June 30 numbers, which have only improved, both House and Senate leaders have requested that the TRS board not raise premiums for retirees, but instead rely on their assurances that the legislature will fully fund the shortfall during the upcoming legislative session. Based on those assurances, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie recommended that the board take no action on increasing rates for TRS-Care.

in addition to leaving premiums the same for the upcoming year, the benefits side of TRS-Care will also remain the same for the upcoming plan year.

The TRS board documents related to this discussion can be found here, or you can watch an archived video of the discussion. The healthcare discussion starts at the beginning of the video.

TEA and TRS both lay out their budget requests to LBB

During a full day of marathon hearings on Wednesday, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Executive Director Brian Guthrie both laid out their agencies’ Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs). The presentations were made to a panel of staffers representing the Governor’s and Lt Governor’s offices, as well as House and Senate budget writers.

ATPE previously issued a statement about the state’s continued shift in reliance on local property taxes, and away from non-property tax revenue, to fund public education represented in TEA’s LAR. The agency’s LAR predicts a reduction of $3 billion in state aid, or $1.5 billion per year, over the next biennium.

There is an available video archive of Morath’s presentation in addition to TEA’s full LAR document, which lays out much of the commissioner’s agenda for the next two years.

Guthrie laid out his agency’s substantial appropriations request later in the day, which included increased contributions of $1.6 billion for the biennium to cover the decrease in projected investment revenue attributable to TRS’s lowering the assumed rate of return on pension fund investments. The TRS budget request also includes approximately $400 million in additional funding to cover the projected shortfall for TRS-Care, the retired educators’ health insurance program. While funding for the active educator health insurance program flows through TEA, not TRS, Guthrie did bring up the fact that the cost of active educator healthcare was also of concern and would be appropriate to address in the upcoming legislative session. While the funding does not flow through the agency, TRS does administer TRS-ActiveCare, which many districts use to provide insurance to their employees.

A video archive of Guthrie’s presentation is available to watch, in addition to the documents that TRS provided to the Legislative Budget Board for this week’s hearing.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 7, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


Testifying at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter advocated for an expansion of the list of free and near-free drugs covered by TRS-Care. The subcommittee, which met Wednesday, oversees the state’s education budget, including the Teacher Retirement System’s pension fund and health insurance. A persistent lack of funding over the years has lead to an increased burden on both active and retired educators who have seen healthcare premiums rise with no increase in the percentage contributed to their pensions. The urgent need for more funding and resources for the TRS system will be a hot button issue during next year’s 86th Legislative Session, one that ATPE lobbyists will be tackling head on. Find out more about Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing in this article by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


The 2018 general election is right around the corner, but even closer than that is a special election runoff in Texas Senate District 19 (SD 19). The special election was called when former Sen. Carlos Uresti stepped down following his felony conviction. While all Texans are not be able to participate in this one special election, all Texans will feel the effects of its outcome as San Antonio residents decide who will take one of the Texas Senate’s 31 seats.

Next Monday through Friday, Sept. 10-14, voters in the district that runs from the greater San Antonio metroplex to the tiny town of Orla, Texas, will have a say in whether Democrat Pete Gallego or Republican Pete Flores represents them in the state’s upper chamber when the legislature convenes in January. For those who miss early voting, the special election runoff for SD 19 will take place Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) posted its Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) this week ahead of formally presenting it to the Legislative Budget Board next Wednesday. LARs lay out all of an agency’s intended expenditures for the upcoming biennium and are, as a group, the basis for what will eventually become the state budget. TEA’s LAR includes not only agency-level spending but also all of the funding that flows through the Foundation School Program and out to school districts. As has been the case in the past, the TEA document includes a statement about reductions in the anticipated level of state spending based on the reliance on an assumed increase in local property tax collections. For the upcoming biennium, the agency is assuming the state will supplant $1.5 billion in state revenue by relying on these local dollars. ATPE released the following press statement in response.


The House Public Education Committee released its preliminary report on school safety this week. The report follows the release of similar interim documents by a Senate committee and Gov. Greg Abbott, but the House report is unique in its focus on directing state funding to accomplish a number of goals aimed at preventing future tragedies like the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

The report is the result of several interim hearings held over the summer at the direction of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and committee chairman  Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). Read a summary of the report’s findings and take a look at the full report itself in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is scheduled to meet Tuesday through Friday of next week, and the agenda includes a formal look at its Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

The plan is the result of more than a year of meetings and stakeholder input, which includes in-person conferences and an online survey seeking guidance from educators and community members all over the state. The final product includes recommendations related to attracting and retaining educators and lifting up the education profession. Follow ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins on Twitter (@MarkWigginsTX) for updates on the plan, which will be discussed on Tuesday.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 24, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


Last week, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick sent a letter to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) insisting that the body not raise insurance premiums on retired educators. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down why many feel the letter is nothing more than a political stunt in this blog post.


Donna Bahorich

Texas State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich will be participating in a listening session for the Federal Commission on School Safety on Tuesday, August 28, 2018, in Montgomery, Alabama. This listening session is the fourth in a series of panels that have been held across the nation with the goal of devising strategies to improve school safety. Tuesday’s afternoon event will be live-streamed. Find more information and read the press release in its entirety here.


U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reported to be considering allowing the use of federal funds from Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants to arm educators. The grants are intended to improve academic achievement; however, nothing expressly forbids the funds from being used to purchase firearms. In the wake of recent school shootings the Texas Education Agency (TEA) received a number of inquiries asking whether the funds could be used for such measures. Wile the agency never received an official response from the Department of Education, the proposal may very well become legitimized. You can learn more in this article from the Texas Tribune.


This week the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a proposed rule change filed by Commissioner Mike Morath regarding students who’ve taken high school end-of-course (EOC) assessments in middle school. Students in grades 3 through 8 who are enrolled in a course that awards high school credit may currently take STAAR EOC assessments prior to entering high school. This includes Algebra I, English I, and English II. However, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires all students to take a math and reading or language arts test in high school.

In order to satisfy this federal requirement, the new rule will require schools to use the SAT or ACT to assess high school students who completed their math or English EOC assessments before their freshman year. This change is expected to cost districts about $50 for each student tested in this way, which number an estimated 109,000 statewide. The total statewide impact is therefore estimated at $5.45 million. The new rule appears in today’s Texas Register and you can read it in its entirety here.

 


 

Return to sender: Letters to TRS are political farce

Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a letter sent to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) urging the board not to increase TRS-Care premiums for retired educators. Quickly following Patrick’s lead, state Sen. Joan Huffman (R–Houston) released a letter of her own also urging TRS to not increase premiums. Huffman chairs the Senate committee charged with overseeing TRS.

With no TRS board meeting until late September and TRS releasing no additional information regarding potential premium increases, these letters came as a bit of a surprise to both education advocates and to TRS. They were also particularly shocking considering the fact that neither the lieutenant governor nor the Senate over which he presides are known for generosity in spending state dollars on education or educators.

Perhaps, however, when put into the context of an election season in which both retired and active educators are still miffed at the way TRS-Care reform was handled last session, the letters, which otherwise seem out of character, make more sense. For example, Lt. Gov. Patrick’s letter was addressed to the chairperson of the TRS board, but was simultaneously delivered to the press. Chairman Jarvis Hollingsworth and the rest of the TRS board are gubernatorial appointees, not an elected body. They serve at the pleasure of Gov. Greg Abbott. TRS, a state agency, operates under the direction and oversight of the legislature. Working directly with TRS, perhaps in coordination with the governor’s office, especially on an issue that isn’t yet public, would have been every bit as effective as making a public announcement of this type. Additionally, aside from the direct request not to raise premiums, the rest of Patrick’s letter sounds more like a campaign stump speech aimed at voters — claiming accomplishments and making future promises — than it does a typical letter expressing direction to a state agency.

Let’s look at some of those “accomplishments” and promises.

Patrick states, “In the last 4 years the Texas Senate has taken the lead in adding over a billion dollars to TRS Care funding including over $200 million in the Special Session last year.”

First, let’s address the funding from the special session. The special session occurred less than three months after the regular session ended, and the state’s economic picture was virtually unchanged. So what did change that allowed Patrick and the Senate to “find” $200 million dollars that they were unwilling to spend less than three months prior? The passage of the TRS-Care reform bill was one of the last things to happen during the regular session. As soon as the bill passed, news of the dramatic increases in retiree premiums hit like a ton of bricks. Hundreds — if not thousands — of retired educators began to call their elected officials, understandably irate. With a special session on things like the failed bathroom bill already on the horizon, additional money to somewhat lessen the blow to angry retirees was added to the call in an attempt to head off an all-out revolt.

Next, let’s put into perspective the amount spent over the last four years and address the way it was spent. A billion dollars sounds like a lot of money; but over four years it represents only about one quarter of 1% of the Texas budget. Additionally, all but $165 million of that billion was put into the budget as one-time supplemental funding. That is significant because the Senate all but refused to add money to the budget as an increase to the funding formulas instead, which is built into the base budget on an ongoing basis and significantly reduces the need to fight for that funding in future sessions. Not only did the Senate resist increasing the formulas beyond the $165 million, it’s in fact unlikely that any of the money would have been put into the funding formula had the House, under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), not fought for the formula increase.

If the dollars put into TRS in the 2015 session had been budgeted as formula instead of supplemental funding, the shortfall during the 2017 session would have only been about $300 million, instead of a billion. It would have been much easier for advocates to rally legislators to find $300 million dollars as opposed to a billion, and retirees could have likely avoided dramatic premium increases. Finally, had Patrick and the Senate put the money spent in 2015 and 2017 into the formulas, there would likely be little to no shortfall going into 2019.

Unfortunately, since the money spent over the last two sessions was not delivered through increased funding formulas, we do have a significant shortfall in TRS-Care funding going into 2019. However, the lieutenant governor goes on to state that he is “confident that the Senate will support additional funding for TRS Care” and that he “believe[s] additional funding should be the responsibility of the Legislature and not fall on the shoulders of our retired teachers.” Considering how hard advocates and retirees had to fight for funding last session, it’s good — though surprising — to hear that the lieutenant governor is confident that full state funding will be available this session. Hopefully that’s not the type of campaign promise that seems to evaporate as soon as the election is over.

Without a doubt, ATPE and thousands of retired educators would prefer TRS-Care premiums either decrease or remain steady, as opposed to increase. Whether or not that preference becomes reality will be entirely up to the next legislature. Let’s hope that retired and active educators remember how much impact elected officials have on them and their students when they cast a ballot in November and that elected officials remember how impactful active and retired educators are during the next session, after those ballots have been cast.