Category Archives: TRS

Compensation, testing, and TRS top issues in ATPE’s “Your Voice” survey

From November 2019 through early January 2020, ATPE members had the opportunity to take a short, three-question survey through Advocacy Central. Powered by a service called Voter Voice, Advocacy Central is a tool that ATPE members can use to be active advocates for Texas education policy.

Respondents were asked to choose their three top education policy issues from a comprehensive list. These issues were ranked most important by survey respondents:

#1 – Educator Compensation and Benefits

#2 – TIE: Standardized Testing / Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

In this blog post, we dive deeper into each of these issues, highlighting recent legislative actions and policy considerations. Then we’ll look at what’s next and pinpoint specific ways that educators can actively influence the treatment of these issues in the future.

Educator Compensation and Benefits

The issue of teacher pay skyrocketed as a priority among Texas legislators and state leaders after educators hit the polls in 2018 – from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick including teacher pay raises in his campaign messaging, to Governor Greg Abbott declaring teacher pay an emergency item, to a non-negotiable inclusion of teacher pay into school funding proposals. Teacher pay is obviously a major factor in the state’s ability to recruit and retain a high-quality teaching workforce. Also, with healthcare costs on the rise, educators’ take-home pay has a direct influence on their health and wellness, which impacts productivity and absenteeism along with costs to the employer.

Due to its far-reaching importance in the short- and long-term, increasing educator compensation has been an ATPE legislative priority. In the 2019 legislative session, the ATPE lobby team advocated for compensation plans that included educator input, meaningful factors other than students’ standardized test scores, and alignment with other efforts to promote and enhance the education profession.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the major school funding proposal passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2019, did several things that impact educator compensation and benefits. The bill made it possible for many school districts to access substantial additional funding, such as through allotments for mentoring and incentive pay for teachers,  money for extending the school year, and an increase in the basic allotment to facilitate pay increases for classroom teachers and other full-time employees in non-administrator roles. HB 3 also raised the state’s minimum salary schedule (MSS) for teachers and other certified educators, up to $5,500 to $9,000 per year of service. This change to the MSS lifted the base pay for many educators, provided raises for some, and increased the state’s share of TRS pension contributions while lowering the district’s share.

As it stands, most (but not all) Texas public school teachers received a pay raise due to increased school funding under HB 3. The bill mandated that districts use 30% of their state funding increase on compensation, with a special priority for teachers with more than five years of experience. The jury is still out on what those raises looked like across the state and whether teachers feel positively impacted by their raise, if any. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is expected to begin gathering data from districts on compensation with a report to legislators in March of 2020. See what some districts have done for their teacher raises in this blog post from our “New School Year, New Laws” series.

HB 3 also included the “teacher incentive allotment” (TIA), which began as strictly merit pay but was eventually modified to specifically prohibit school districts from being required to use standardized tests to evaluate teachers for purposes of this funding. For districts that are ultimately approved to participate in the TIA, they must create local designation systems that will allow for additional state funding ranging from $3,000 to $32,000. The additional funding from this allotment flows to the district, not directly to the teacher, and is based on the number of teachers in the district who receive certain designations as determined by the district (Master, Exemplary, or Recognized) and where those teachers teach (high-needs or rural campuses draw down more dollars). TEA recently released correspondence to districts regarding their TIA applications to the agency. Some districts that already have incentive programs in place, like Dallas ISD and Austin ISD, will likely apply to TEA to be in the first cohort to receive funding in the fall of 2020.

Learn more about the intricate ins-and-outs of HB 3 in this blog post here on Teach the Vote and in TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video series, which details several aspects of the bill relating to compensation.

Standardized Testing

Testing is a major issue for teachers, especially when there is so much riding on the results, such as school grades, closures, sanctions, and even teacher pay. Testing also seems unfair for many students who have special needs, are learning English, are new to the country, or have test-taking anxiety. Teachers know that an entire year of their students’ hard work and social, emotional, and academic growth could never be captured on a single day’s standardized test.

The largest testing bill that passed during the 2019 legislative session – HB 3906, by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) – made several changes to state assessment administration and content. Here are highlights of what the bill prescribes:

  • Multiple smaller test sections that can be administered over multiple days (operational by the 2021-22 school year).
  • Elimination of writing tests in grades 4 and 7 (beginning with 2021-22 school year).
  • Prohibiting the administration of State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests to students on the first instructional day of the week.
  • Districts will transition to electronic assessments by 2022-23.
  • By Dec. 2020, TEA will create and share with lawmakers a plan to transition districts to electronic assessments.
  • No more than 75% of any STAAR test can be multiple choice by 2022-23.
  • TEA will establish an integrated formative assessment pilot program that districts can opt in to, which will be used to determine if these assessments improve instructional support and if they could potentially replace current assessments (with a pilot program to launch in the spring of 2021).
  • TEA will develop interim assessments for districts to use as actionable test data.
  • The educator assessment advisory committee, still awaiting commissioner appointment, will provide recommendations to TEA on assessment development.

Read more about HB 3906 from the TEA website here, and learn more about changes to testing that occurred due to the last legislative session in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE.

The merits of the STAAR test itself were also questioned heavily by parents, educators, and other stakeholders this past session. As a result, HB 3 mandated that a “readability study” be conducted to ensure that the test items and passages on the STAAR tests are at an appropriate level for the test-taker. The University of Texas at Austin Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk released part one of the study at the beginning of December. In a nutshell, the study (which was not peer-reviewed) was lauded by Commissioner Mike Morath as proving that the tests were on-level, but it left many questions unanswered. Specifically, the study was inconclusive about the grade-level readability of test items, it found that some STAAR test questions did not adequately assess the standards they were meant to address, and the authors noted that a majority of STAAR passages were within or below specified levels for narrativity (which has to do with the use of common vocabulary for a certain age/grade). We expect the second part of this study to come out by Feb. 1, 2020. Read more in this blog post here on Teach the Vote.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

After accounting changes adopted by the TRS board of directors in July of 2018, the TRS pension fund was in need of additional funding going into the 2019 legislative session. The 86th Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 12, by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which reduced the funding window for the TRS fund from 87 years to 29 years, and allowed for a supplemental payment or “13th check” to be issued to retirees in September 2019. SB 12 functions by slowly increasing the state’s contribution to TRS up to 8.25% by the year 2024. Additionally, the school district contribution will increase from 1.5% to 2%. Active school employees’ contributions to TRS will remain at the existing rate of 7.7% for the next two years and eventually increase to 8% in the 2021-22 school year and 8.25% the following year.

SB 12 also requires that if the state’s contribution to TRS should decline in the future, then school district and active employee contributions to the fund would be reduced by the same percentage. Additionally, the few school districts that pay into Social Security will no longer enjoy an exemption from paying into TRS.

Read more about TRS and the 86th Legislature in this ATPE blog post here on our blog.

What’s next?

We are not finished with compensation. While HB 3 made great strides in improving school finance, many aspects of the bill that could raise educator pay are left at a school district’s discretion. Compensation and benefits should be increased for educators across-the-board to bring the profession to an appropriate level of pay, ensuring that educators can live balanced, healthy lives.

Likewise, we are far from done with testing. However, this topic has been heavily dictated at the federal level since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, which is now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The state is limited in how much it can reduce testing and remain in compliance with federal accountability requirements. That being said, there is flexibility built into ESSA that would allow Texas to alter its assessment structure in ways that are more holistic, such as through the use of portfolio or performance assessments. Additionally, we must be vigilant in resisting the use of standardized tests for purposes of teacher evaluation and pay, as these tests have been shown to indicate more about poverty and other student factors uncontrollable by educators than how well students are learning in any given school year.

TRS is not a done deal either. Educators still face exorbitant healthcare costs and family needs. Prioritizing investments in healthcare, particularly with an emphasis on wellness and disease prevention, can pay great dividends in the form of a healthier school employee population. The state needs to increase its share of healthcare costs for both active and retired employees.

One of the most effective ways for educators to influence future legislative actions around these and other issues is to stay in touch with their own legislators. ATPE members can use our communication tools on Advocacy Central to quickly and easily send messages to their lawmakers at any time.

Your Vote is Your Voice

As the 2020 election cycle proceeds, it is important for voters to be aware of candidates’ positions on these issues, as well as incumbent legislators’ voting records on education bills like the ones mentioned above. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has invited all candidates for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year to participate in our education-specific candidate survey. On TeachtheVote.org, find candidate and legislator profiles to view their survey responses and voting records, where available. Learn more about which of the legislature’s 2019 votes were included on our site and why in this blog post.

As an additional resource, if you’d like to hear directly from candidates and maybe even ask a question, attend a free, public education-focused candidate forum being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation in several Texas cities this year. Find one near you here.

Voter registration for the Texas primary elections on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020, ends on February 3. Find out if you are properly registered here. Educator Voting Day is slated for the first day of early voting, February 18, 2019.

Find more voting resources and take the Educators’ Oath to Vote on TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 20, 2020

As you end the school year and cozy up for the holidays, please enjoy the last weekly wrap-up of 2019 from the ATPE Governmental Relations team. The ATPE state office will be closed from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4, reopening on Jan. 6, 2020. Expect our next Teach the Vote weekly wrap-up blog post to be published on Jan. 10, 2020.


ELECTION UPDATE: With candidate filing seemingly complete – after a few extensions in races where there were late withdrawals – we’re now getting a good picture of the match-ups that will be on the ballots for the Texas primary election on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins shares some of the insights plus endorsement news in his latest election roundup blog post here. Don’t forget that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

In the Houston and Dallas areas, candidates will be busy trying to garner voters’ support over the holidays for an upcoming runoff election on Jan. 28, 2020. The runoff is for special elections deciding three vacant House seats: Texas House District 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. If you live in one of those three districts and are not yet registered to vote, you have until Dec. 29, 2019, to register to vote in the runoff, even if you did not vote in the original special election in November.

We at ATPE join our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition in thanking educators for their involvement and helping us spread our “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) messages around the state. We hope you’ll take advantage of the many election resources available at TexasEducatorsVote.com and prepare to be an informed voter in 2020 by learning about the candidates. ATPE will be updating our Teach the Vote website in January with profiles of all candidates running for the Texas House or Senate, plus the State Board of Education. In the meantime, learn more about your incumbent state legislators, including how they voted in the 2019 legislative session on education issues, by viewing their profiles on Teach the Vote.


ATPE is helping our friends at The Texas Tribune to promote a new resource for Texans to learn about voting in the Nov. 2020 general election: Teach Me How to Texas. Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in The Texas Tribune’s free five-week crash course. You’ll learn interesting facts about Texas’ past and culture, how different communities and regions in Texas vote, how candidates raise and spend money, how to spot a good poll from a bad one, and how to decode your November ballot. Click here to sign up!


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin last week, and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings. The board discussed space planning needs for the TRS agency, a recent actuarial valuation of the TRS Pension Trust Fund, and a funding policy that will affect future benefits, on which ATPE provided testimony. Read more details about the meeting in this week’s blog post from Exter.


When you have some free time over the holiday break, ATPE encourages all of our members to take a few minutes to log into the ATPE website and answer our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. It’s a quick, three-question survey about which education issues are most important to you. Let us know which legislative issues you care about the most and want ATPE to work on in 2020 and beyond!

Click on the photo to hear a quick message from ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes about the survey.

 


 

More detail on the last TRS meeting of 2019

As we mentioned here on Teach the Vote last week, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) board of trustees met last Thursday and Friday, Dec. 12-13, 2019. The board opened its final day of meetings for 2019 with public comments before taking up an agenda that included adoption of a new funding policy and considering where the TRS agency should be housed in the future. The TRS board heard testimony last week from ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) as well as some individual retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter addressed the association’s concerns with language in the proposed funding policy to be considered for adoption later in the meeting.

Senate Bill (SB) 2224, as passed during the last regular session of the legislature, requires the TRS board to adopt a written funding policy detailing its plan for achieving a funded ratio equal to or greater than 100 percent for the pension trust fund. The original language proposed to the board could have been interpreted as creating a policy that was more prescriptive than current law with respect to cost of living adjustments (COLAs), potentially putting the board at odds with mandates from future legislatures. The legislature, not the TRS board, determines whether or not TRS should grant a COLA to retirees.

After considering the concerns voiced, the board struck the objectionable language before adopting the remainder of the proposed policy. The new funding policy as adopted will require TRS staff to include additional requests for funding in the agency’s legislative funding requests anytime they determine that current funding is not sufficient to keep the pension fund on track toward paying off the balance of its unfunded liability in less than 30 years.

Currently, the $160 billion TRS trust fund is on track to pay off its unfunded liabilities in 29 years. This is largely due to this year’s passage of SB 12, which phases in higher contribution rates for school districts, educators, and the state over the next five years. Prior to SB 12, the fund’s payoff date was more than 87 years into the future, cutting off the possibility of benefit enhancements for retirees for nearly six decades.

With the state of the TRS pension fund significantly shored up after the 2019 legislative session, it is likely that lawmakers will return their focus to improving TRS health insurance. In fact, the Texas House of Representatives recently appointed a new special committee to study statewide healthcare to be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, a neurosurgeon from League City and the co-sponsor of SB 12. Chairman Bonnen was present at the TRS board meeting last Thursday  for a discussion by its Benefits Committee regarding primary care directed models and how to improve outcomes and costs associated with TRS-Care and TRS-Activecare. As the largest single insurer and one that covers members both during their working years and into retirement, TRS is in a unique position to influence a new round of early discussions on improving healthcare in Texas.

TRS has come a long way over the last 30 years. The fund has grown from less than $20 billion to just over $160 billion. Over that same time TRS staff has grown from around 300 employees to more than 700, at the same time that the number of TRS members has increased from around 500 thousand to more than 1.6 million. TRS has moved six times since 1937 before locating the agency in its current home in 1973. Growth in the number of members and exponential growth in the size of the trust fund has pushed TRS’s staffing needs beyond what its current physical location can accommodate.

As the TRS board and staff seek a new home for the agency, they are keeping certain priorities in mind. The space should be centrally located and user-friendly for the members; the new space should provide a long-term solution; and the move away from the current space to a new one should result in a net positive for the fund. These priorities translate into building a new space in central Texas, but outside the downtown Austin business district. Additionally, it means leasing the current TRS space in order to maximize profits for trust fund.

For more on last week’s TRS meeting, click here to view the board materials or watch archived footage.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 13, 2019

Gearing up for the holidays? Take a break from shopping to catch up on this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: The candidate filing period has ended, bringing us one step closer to the Texas primary elections on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, 2020! Check your voter registration status here. Read more of the latest election news in this week’s election roundup blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here.

If you live in House District 28, 100, or 148, don’t forget that you’ve also got a special election runoff coming up on Jan. 28, 2020. Early voting begins Tuesday, Jan. 21. If you are registered to vote in one of these districts, you may vote in the runoff regardless of whether you voted in the original special election in November. The deadline to register to vote in that special election runoff is Dec. 29, 2019.

Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to get involved, find activities you can do to drive more participation in elections, and sign up for voting updates. Also, be sure to check out your state legislators’ profiles on our Teach the Vote website to find out how they voted on education bills in 2019. Read our recent blog posts to learn more about which education bills are featured and takeaways for using the record votes featured on our site. Teach the Vote will soon include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education.


Reps. Steve Allison and Ernest Bailes chat with ATPE’s Shannon Holmes on Dec. 12, 2019

A group of educators gathered near Austin this week at the Texas Association of Midsized Schools (TAMS) annual conference. Attendees heard from legislators and education advocates on a number of important topics including school funding, accountability, and educator retirement issues.

ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes moderated a conversation about teacher pay in the wake of this year’s passage of House Bill 3. The teacher compensation panel featured state representatives Steve Allison (R-Alamo Heights) and Ernest Bailes (R-Shepard). House Public Education Committee chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and Senate Education Committee chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) also participated in a panel during the conference.


The preliminary results of ATPE’s “Your Voice” survey are starting to take shape. Our members are telling us that standardized testing is their number one policy priority. Want to chime in? You still have time to participate in this short, three-question survey, which is meant to gather ATPE members’ opinions on education issues, including results of the last legislative session. ATPE members are encouraged to take our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. Call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you need help logging into Advocacy Central.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin for the last time this year on Thursday and Friday of this week. The board contemplated space planning needs for the TRS agency, reviewed a recent actuarial valuation of the TRS Pension Trust Fund, and discussed a funding policy. For more detail, check out this teaser post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter and check back on Teach the Vote next week for a full summary of this week’s TRS meetings.


Last Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held its final meeting of the year. The board discussed several items, including new teacher and principal surveys, enabling high school students to become certified as educational aides, and other changes to implement bills from recent legislative sessions. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified at the meeting asking the board to help Master Reading Teachers retain their teaching assignments once their Legacy Master Teacher certificates expire under HB 3. Read a full meeting summary in this blog post and watch video of ATPE’s testimony here (located at the 41:00 mark on the archived broadcast).


A new report by the Center for American Progress describes the nationwide trend of declining enrollment and completion in educator preparation programs. The authors dive into Texas and California specifically to explain two different approaches to this issue. In Texas, enrollment has increased due to the proliferation of alternative certification programs, while completion has declined. Read an analysis of the report by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here.

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.

New School Year, New Laws: Retirement Benefits

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed changes to the ethical and professional responsibilities of Texas public school educators. These included big changes to reporting requirements for non-certified employees and the creation of a “do-not-hire” registry. This week, we will shift gears to talk about educator pensions and retirement benefits, which also saw major changes as a result of the 2019 legislative session.

Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston): Increasing funds for TRS

SB 12 was the most important bill for improving the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) that was passed during the 86th legislative session. ATPE supported SB 12 because it infused enough additional funding into the TRS pension fund in order to make it “actuarially sound.” This also made possible the issuance of a 13th check of up to $2,000 to retirees last month. SB 12’s changes also make it more likely that the TRS will be able to offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the next two to four years, which could provide a much-needed permanent increase in benefits to current and future retirees.

Actuarial soundness was achieved by gradually increasing the state, educator, and school district contributions to the fund over the next six years. Through these increased contributions, SB 12 lowered the time frame needed to pay off the unfunded liability of the TRS pension fund to reach an acceptable standard under state law. For those not familiar with pension lingo, unfunded liability refers to the amount by which the cost of future benefits that a fund is obligated to pay exceed the cash on hand in the fund, similar to carrying credit card debt. While SB 12 made great strides in supporting educators who rely on TRS, Texas remains 50th in the nation when it comes to the state’s contribution rate for educator retirement benefits. Moving forward, ATPE will continue to press the legislature to improve the retirement benefits that educators so greatly deserve.

House Bill (HB) 2820 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van): Deregulating 403(b) investment options

Under previous law, TRS kept a list of approved investment vendors that could offer educators 403(b) investment products. These 403(b) investment plans are similar to 401(k) plans in that they offer a tax-advantaged way to save for retirement, but 403(b) plans are designed for public employees and tax-exempt organizations, like churches and charities. HB 2820 deregulates 403(b) investment offerings by eliminating the TRS list of approved vendors, as well as the requirement that vendors abide by TRS’s caps on fees. These caps limited the amount that a vendor could charge for each transaction. Under this new law, educators who choose to invest in a 403(b) will have to more closely monitor the administrative fees they are being charged. Additionally, without the fee cap, vendors might offer investment products that are very expensive now.


Join us next week on our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series here on Teach the Vote as we will discuss legislative changes impacting charter school laws.

For more information on new laws impacting educators, be sure to read the new report from the ATPE Member Legal Services staff, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.”

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 20, 2019

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


Ellis and Bahorich

Dr. Keven Ellis (R) of Lufkin has been appointed as the new chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Dr. Ellis assumes the role after the previous chair, Donna Bahorich (R) of Houston, served the maximum of two terms over the last 4 years. Bahorich presided over last week’s SBOE meetings, which we covered here on our Teach the Vote blog, and she will remain a member of the board. Dr. Ellis has been an elected member of the board since 2016, and he recently represented the SBOE as vice chair of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Read more about Monday’s announcement of the SBOE change of leadership here on Teach the Vote.


ELECTION UPDATE: Tuesday, September 24, will mark the eighth annual National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), a non-partisan effort to increase civic participation. For more information on NVRD and other election news, including announcements about a key senator’s retirement and the race to succeed him, check out this week’s election update from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


This week’s edition of our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series on Teach the Vote covers the topic of special education. Following media reports and a federal investigation that found Texas had for years imposed an arbitrary, de facto cap on enrolling students into special education programs, this year’s legislative session was heavily focused on addressing special education, from increasing funding to enacting laws to raise awareness of students’  and parents’ rights. Read the latest blog post in our series by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier for a breakdown of new legislation that affects special education.


The TRS board met in Austin this week discussing topics ranging from healthcare affordability to retirees’ recently issued 13th check and potential office moves for the agency. Read more about the discussions in this new post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who attended the TRS meetings this week.


A pair of hearings on the subject of school safety and preventing school violence took place this week in Texas and in Washington, DC, with more meetings scheduled in the near future.

First, in the nation’s capital this week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor met Wednesday for a markup of H.R. 4301, the “School Shooting Safety and Preparedness Act” filed by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D – Hawaii). The measure calls for an annual report by the U.S. Department of Education on school violence data and would define in federal statute the terms “mass shooting” and “school shooting.” After a heated debate, the committee approved the bill by a party-line vote of 27-22, with some Republicans on the committee, including its ranking member, deriding it as a “publicity stunt.” For members of the Texas congressional delegation serving on the committee, Democrat Joaquin Castro voted for the measure, while Republicans Van Taylor and Ron Wright voted against it.

Here in Texas, the new House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety held its first meeting on Tuesday. During the organizational meeting, committee members heard invited testimony only from state law enforcement officials and mostly focused their conversation around the topic of threat reporting and investigations. A similar select committee established in the Texas Senate will hold its first meeting next week on Sept. 26.


Highlights of the September TRS Board Meeting

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees convened in Austin this week for their regular quarterly meeting. Among items discussed by the board were space planning for the agency, creating regional TRS-ActiveCare offerings, and delivery of the 13th check to retirees.

TRS has recently been in the news with regard to new lease space in downtown Austin. Approximately 10 years ago, TRS ran out of space to house all of its employees at the 11th and Red River location. As a result, the agency moved its investment staff to leased space a few blocks away. Since that time both the TRS benefits/customer service staff and the investment team have continued to grow. Both the Red River location and the leased space are at maximum capacity now. In order to accommodate the size and needs of the investment staff, TRS has taken three floors in a new building, in which TRS is a part owner, further into downtown Austin. The board must determine whether to substantially renovate or move out of TRS’s Red River office in order to accommodate non-investment staff (primarily those working in customer service). Because all TRS costs, including staffing and space, are paid for out of the pension trust fund, these moves naturally bring up questions about whether the agency’s additional staff and office space requirements will bring in more value for TRS members than it costs to accommodate. There is no definitive way to answer this question, but ATPE and other groups representing active and retired TRS members will continue to monitor and report on the value of TRS spending.

Another program in which TRS is trying to find ways to improve its value proposition is TRS-ActiveCare. The agency staff and board members have begun looking into the development of regional ActiveCare options that school districts could choose to offer their employees. The move was prompted by actions taken by El Paso ISD over several years to try to exit the TRS-ActiveCare program. When the district could not find a way to do so under existing state laws, El Paso found a novel way to migrate most of its staff out of the state’s program and onto a new local plan, which was deemed to be cheaper than the statewide plan due to regional differences in healthcare costs. In response to El Paso’s decision and with the expectation that other districts may pursue a similar course of action, TRS is now looking into the possibility of regional options for school district employees. This project is in its preliminary stages and is something ATPE will follow closely as it evolves.

Finally, the TRS board also received an update this week on the 13th check provided to retirees as a result of Senate Bill 12 that was passed by the legislature earlier this year. The additional payment equates to the lesser of the amount of a retiree’s standard monthly annuity check or $2,000. TRS annuitants who receive their TRS payments through direct deposit received the 13th payment on September 10. The remainder of TRS retirees should have received a check in the mail by September 15. ATPE encourages any retirees who did not receive a check and believe that they should have received one to contact TRS directly.

Click here to watch a video of this week’s TRS meetings or review the board materials.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 6, 2019

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


In the wake of the tragic shootings in El Paso and Odessa, Gov. Greg Abbott has issued executive orders addressing public safety. While most of the orders focus on improving agency-level responses like developing standardized intake questions and guidelines on when to submit Suspicious Activity Reports, executive orders number five and six deal directly with schools. The orders are as follows:

  • Order No. 5 The Department of Public Safety shall work with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on ways to better inform schools, students, staff, and families about the importance of Suspicious Activity Reports and how to initiate that process.
  • Order No. 6 The Department of Public Safety shall work with local law enforcement, mental-health professionals, school districts, and others to create multidisciplinary threat assessment teams for each of its regions, and when appropriate shall coordinate with federal partners.

Learn more about the executive orders in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


Earlier this week U.S. Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX 17) announced that he would not be seeking re-election in 2020. This season has seen the announcement of a number of departures from Capitol Hill as well as many campaign launches. The special elections to fill the seats vacated by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), and Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) have been set to coincide with voting on the constitutional amendments on Nov. 5th. The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 5th election is Oct. 7. For more on the races in the upcoming election check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. 


Curriculum and instruction is the subject of this week’s installment of ATPE’s blog series, “New School Year, New Laws.” This blog post examines bills such as House Bill 4310 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) which stipulates that sufficient time be given for students to learn the scope and sequence of TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills); and parts of House Bill 3 that provide funding for gifted and talented programs. For the full list of laws visit this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. 


The latest edition of the Texas Education Agency’s weekly video series, “HB 3 in 30,” covers special education and dyslexia. You can find a link to this week’s video and all previous videos here.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) has announced a time frame for retirees to receive their 13th ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneycheck. According to the TRS.Texas.gov website, retirees will receive their 13th check on or around Sept. 15, 2019. A list of frequently asked questions about the check can be found here. More of Teach the Vote’s coverage of Senate Bill 12 (the bill responsible for the 13th check) can be found in this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter..


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 9, 2019

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


With back to school starting for millions of Texas students, it is time once again for students and teachers alike to buy school supplies. This weekend is the annual Texas Sales Tax Holiday, or “tax-free weekend,” as it is sometime called. This year’s tax holiday begins today, August 9, and runs through Sunday, August 11. During the holiday you can avoid paying sales tax when you buy most clothing, footwear, school supplies, and backpacks (sold for less than $100) from a Texas retail store or from an online or catalog seller doing business in Texas. ATPE members can also use their OfficeMax/Office Depot discount this weekend for even more combined savings.

Teach the Vote readers may have also heard about a grass roots movement started by teachers called #ClearTheList. Teachers participating in #ClearTheList or #ClearTheListsTexas post school supply wish lists on social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, and companies or individuals will “clear their list” by purchasing the school supplies for the teacher to use in their classroom. Hopefully the day will come when we fund public schools such that these types of school supply charity drives will not be necessary, but until then – never underestimate the ingenuity or tenacity of a Texas educator to serve his or her students! To participate, type #ClearTheList or #ClearTheListsTexas into the search bar of any social media platform.

 


The Texas Education Agency is continuing to do its deep dives on the myriad new policies created with the passage of House Bill 3 with the release of another video in its “HB 3 in 30” series. This week’s video will dive into the outcomes bonus based on college, career, and military readiness, otherwise known as CCMR. A list of all previous HB 3 in 30 videos, as well as a schedule of upcoming topics, can be found at this link.

 


The movement to repeal the federal Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which decreases the Social Security benefits of many hard-working Texas teachers, gained media attention this week. This article by Lorie Konish of CNBC highlights recently introduced legislation by Texas Congressman Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands) and quotes ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter. Look for more from the press and ATPE as additional bills are filed in Congress and the movement to address the WEP heats up in Washington this fall.

 


The 86th legislative session may have just ended, but that means a new election season is already upon us. Each day it seems that additional lawmakers are announcing their plans to retire as new candidates are announcing their bids to run, either to replace incumbents or for a chance to fill newly opened seats.

Without question, the 2019 legislative session was influenced in a positive way by huge voter turnout among educators and public education allies. If it weren’t for that turnout in 2018, there would likely have been no talk of an increase in teacher pay in 2019. It is critically important for educators to stay engaged this election cycle in order to maintain and improve upon the gains that were made last session, but it is also important for educators and all public servants to make sure they are expressing their political views and encouraging civic engagement among their peers in ways that are ethical and legal.

Thankfully, the Texas Educators Vote coalition, working in coordination with ATPE, has published this handy dos and don’ts guide on civic engagement around Texas elections. As educators head back to school, they can feel confident exercising their right to free speech with the aid of this guide. ATPE encourages members to check out the guide and other resources available from Texas Educators Vote on the coalition’s newly updated website, and be sure to follow Teach the Vote this fall for election updates and information to help educators stay politically active and make informed choices at the polls.

 


ATPE joined legislators and advocates from around the country this week for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) 2019 Summit in Nashville, Tennessee. This event draws together some of the brightest minds from the U.S. and abroad to discuss policy items of interest to state governments. Education is always a topic of lively discussion, and this year was no different.

Among the topics discussed were ongoing efforts to ensure all students are provided with an equally high quality of education, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. This continues to be a challenge in Texas and other states, where great disparities continue to exist both across and within school district boundaries. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that laws passed to racially segregate schools were unconstitutional. Yet the Court’s decision in Milliken v. Bradley in 1974 essentially allowed segregation to continue as long as it is not explicitly intentional. The result has been de facto racial and socioeconomic segregation that continues in many parts of the state today, despite decades of efforts and lawsuits intended to achieve the original aim of integration.

Attendees also discussed efforts to improve the future of education, which includes working with employers to emphasize the role of the education system in creating the workforce of the future. How well we do at preparing future workers has a direct impact on the overall economy. Like Texas in 2018, many states have recently launched commissions to study ways to improve the public education system. The findings of these commissions are unsurprisingly similar to the results found by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. For example, a commission launched by the state of Maryland found that investing in early education and better compensation for educators are both critical components of building a high-achieving education system. There is now a mounting body of evidence across the United States supporting these core determinations.