Tag Archives: 12 days of voting

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 2, 2018

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


Carl Garner

In the weeks prior to the upcoming midterm elections, many people across the state have been bombarded with a slew of campaign ads featuring members of both parties vying for the votes of the general public. One such ad features Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick discussing a $10,000 raise that he alleges he championed for educators. But there’s a problem: no such thing ever happened. ATPE Past State President Carl Garner quashes  that claim and explains why such rhetoric is offensive in this guest post.

 

 

 

 

 


Over the past two weeks of early voting we’ve been highlighting what’s at stake for educators in the 2018 midterm elections. This past week we’ve examined a myriad of issues like why it’s important to elect pro-public education candidates to the State Board of Education and why vouchers are a threat to public schools. Over the years, teachers have had to deal with a barrage of attacks: attempts to limit their ability to join professional associations, school funding cuts, and exorbitant increases in health care costs, to name a few. That has made an already demanding job that much more difficult. With Nov. 6 a few days away, it’s time for educators to asses the hand they’ve been dealt and whether the legislature is holding up its end of the bargain; then vote accordingly.

Read more from the 12 Days of Voting series:

 


Governor Abbott showcased his plan to patch up the state’s school finance system to business leaders and educators earlier this week. Without having received the recommendations of the Commission on Public School Finance, which has not yet concluded its work (although it is expected to report its findings by the end of this year), Abbott has proposed a plan that would limit the amount of property tax revenue school districts can raise and would give school districts financial rewards for improving student performance. The proposal gave pause to Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee. Bernal had this to say with regards to the proposal:

“It would be a shame if school finance was merely a Trojan horse for his property tax agenda,” he said. “What that means is that it’s not about the students at all.”

Read more about the proposal and see the text of the document in this article by the Texas Tribune. 

 

 


12 Days of Voting: State Board of Education

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 the State Board of Education (SBOE).


The SBOE doesn’t usually make the news unless it’s because of a political fight over textbooks or controversial changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) dealing with subjects like the Alamo or evolution.

Not that these things aren’t important, but they overshadow other significant work that the board undertakes at its quarterly meetings in Austin.

Here’s a great example:

In its most recent meeting, SBOE members unveiled their long-awaited Long-Range Plan for Public Education, the result of more than a year of soliciting stakeholder feedback and holding community meetings to chart a course for the next 30 years of public education in Texas.

Some of the plan’s recommendations include boosting mentorship programs, tightening up the standards for educator preparation programs (EPPs), and improving wraparound supports for children facing a variety of challenging home situations. The board has listened to educators at every step of the way, and the result is a plan that aims to lift up the education profession.

At the very same meeting, the board spiked a dangerous certification rule proposal opposed by ATPE that would have created a backdoor for underqualified teacher candidates. The board also unanimously acted to restore nearly a half billion dollars in school funding being held back by the General Land Office (GLO).

Oh, and about those TEKS discussions: SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich (R-The Woodlands) recently led the board in a redesign of the TEKS review process intended to allow more educators to participate in the process. So if you are an expert in the field and would like to be involved in crafting and streamlining the curriculum, your chances of getting the opportunity are greater than ever.

None of these positive outcomes would have been possible if SBOE members were not willing to listen to what educators have to say. That’s why electing pro-public education candidates to the SBOE is important to guide this important institution going forward.


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!

12 Days of Voting: “A through F” Accountability

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 the “A through F” accountability system.


When lawmakers were debating the idea of moving Texas schools from an accountability system in which schools either “met standard” or were designated “improvement required” to one that would great districts and campuses on an A through F scale, ATPE warned that they may not get the outcomes they were hoping for.

Now that the first round of A through F grades have come out for school districts, it’s hard not to say “we told you so.”

Consider this lede from the Beaumont Enterprise‘s editorial board:

“It could be time for a re-test. A recent review of Texas public schools by Hearst Newspapers revealed serious discrepancies between the rankings given to state schools and the actual performance of their students in college.”

What Hearst found is that a majority of students from A-rated and B-rated districts were likely to need remedial classes once they got to the college level. The article summarized:

“The study suggests that public school districts are placing too much emphasis on things like improving their scores on the STAAR test (the state’s standardized exam) and high school graduation rates. Under the state’s A through F ratings system, schools that do well on those criteria will get higher rankings.

Those categories are important, but the bottom line should always be the same: How much are the students actually learning? Do they truly have the skills needed for their next stage in life, or are school districts simply passing them along the assembly line to get regulators and parents off their backs?”

It’s exactly the argument teachers have been making for years. Furthermore, teachers warned that giving F labels to struggling schools — mostly those with high levels of economically disadvantaged children — would unfairly stigmatize the students themselves as “failures.” Sure enough, the Texas Tribune noted that districts with high numbers of poor kids received the brunt of F labels in the accountability system’s first year.

It all plays into the narrative pushed by those who want to defund and privatize our schools: That our neighborhood schools are failures, and the money should be handed over to private contractors who promise to educate our kids on the cheap.

The truth is Texas schools are doing well. In most Texas towns, the local high school is the heart of the community. Yet there is certainly room for improvement. Our schools are becoming overcrowded at the same time lawmakers are underfunding them.

The bottom line: There are better ways to hold schools accountable. Educators must be a part of crafting that process, but they will only be invited to the table if Texans send pro-public education legislators to Austin.


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!

12 Days of Voting: Intimidation

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 voter intimidation efforts targeting educators.


You may not be shocked to find out that some public officials who support defunding and privatizing our public schools do not like the idea of hundreds of thousands of educators voting their profession.

What you may find shocking, however, is how some public officials are using the power of their elective office to deliberately intimidate teachers from voting!

It’s no secret that educators are mobilizing like never before, and many school districts are enthusiastically exercising their legal obligation to encourage voting and civic engagement among both staff and eligible students. As a member of the Texas Educators Vote coalition, ATPE has worked alongside other education and civic groups to increase voter turnout among educators and share nonpartisan election resources with school employees. These efforts came under attack earlier this year when state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) engaged Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a naked attempt to chill these efforts.

Soon after, the state’s most notorious privately funded special interest group staged its own voter intimidation campaign directed at teachers. The campaign backfired spectacularly, with the internet uniting behind the social media hashtag #BlowingTheWhistle to highlight the impactful stories of dedicated educators making a difference. ATPE wrote about the Twitter backlash on our Teach the Vote blog.

The whole debacle didn’t escape the notice of retiring House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who sided squarely with educators encouraging a culture of voting.

“Put me down as supporting a culture of voting, among teachers and all eligible Texans,” Straus said in a newsletter dated February 23.

In his letter, the Speaker explicitly called out voter intimidation efforts aimed at educators. Straus wrote:

“I’ve often said that we need more Texans voting in primaries so that candidates are responsive and accountable to a broader set of Texans and their concerns. Unfortunately, some elected leaders in Austin and their allies have been trying to discourage voting among one important group of Texans: School teachers.

Some members of our community have received a letter from an Austin special interest group criticizing local school leaders for promoting a ‘culture of voting.’ This group apparently feels threatened by the fact that education leaders are encouraging civic participation.

It’s easy to understand why educators and others who support public schools want to vote. Those of us who have prioritized public education have been met with resistance from other elected leaders. As a result, our school finance system still desperately needs reform, and the lack of state dollars going into public education is driving local property taxes higher and higher.”

Speaker Straus is not running for reelection, which means those who vote in the elections underway now will determine what type of leader takes his place and will oversee the actions taken by the Texas House during the 2019 legislative session that begins less than three months from now..

At the same time, Paxton continues his efforts to intimidate educators and discourage them from going to the polls, perhaps fearful that educators will vote for his opponent in the contested AG’s race happening now. Paxton’s office has sent threatening letters full of dubious legal warnings to multiple school districts throughout the year. Yet ATPE has pointed out that educators, including administrators, not only have a right to encourage voting — Texas law encourages doing so!

The law is simple: School district resources can’t be used to support a specific candidate, party, or ballot initiative. That means don’t use your school e-mail to share a candidate’s campaign e-mail. Easy enough, right? Other than that, you are perfectly fine encouraging colleagues, students, and staff to do their own research to find out where candidates stand and to make sure they vote in this week’s elections.


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!

12 Days of Voting: Vouchers

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 vouchers.


When it comes to issues facing public education as a whole, privatization remains one of the most existential threats. The endgame of those who are pushing private school vouchers is to defund the public school system in order to hand our kids over to faceless corporations that will crank them out cheaply and pocket the profits.

Think about it: In 2016, Texas spent $24 billion in state funds to educate our kids. Local taxpayers pitched in even more — $28.8 billion on top of that. It sounds like a lot of money, until you consider it was spread between 5.3 million students. That translated to just $11,133 per student, which puts Texas below the national average and among the states with the most miserly per-student spending.

Despite lagging below many other states, the money spent on Texas public schools is nonetheless a tempting target for predatory opportunists who see only dollar signs. Private schools that can ignore state and federal regulations are viewed by many as a cash cow. A warehouse with a skeleton crew of untrained staff could certainly churn out diplomas and graduate kids unprepared for college and careers for a fraction of the price of a quality public education. Pro-voucher legislators could brag about reducing spending while corporate stockholders rake in billions of taxpayer dollars, perfect for spending on fancy yachts and private planes – and campaign contributions to pro-voucher legislators!

Of course, the kids end up the losers in this scenario. And the 85th Texas Legislature witnessed the despicable lengths to which voucher supporters were willing to go to sell our kids down the road.

The legislative session began with fresh data indicating that Texans firmly oppose spending public taxpayer dollars to subsidize private school tuition. Led by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, voucher proponents instead focused on a voucher targeting students with special needs as a way to open the door. They also used terms like “education savings accounts” and “tax credit scholarships” to describe their voucher plans in the hope of garnering more support from those who traditionally oppose privatization. Voucher promoters even went as far as mailing fraudulent letters to lawmakers to promote their plan.

As ATPE pointed out, special education vouchers are especially troubling and would not come close to covering the full cost of services for children with special needs. In fact, they would give students far less money than the public school system is currently required to spend on their behalf. More importantly, they would force children with special needs to surrender their federal rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Parents of special needs students wisely rejected this cynical attempt to exploit their children for political purposes. With the backing of parents, teachers, ATPE, and the majority of Texans, the Texas House of Representatives led by Speaker Joe Straus stood firmly against each voucher scheme brought forth in 2017. Legislators punctuated their stance with multiple votes on the House floor to reject vouchers.

As payback, Lt. Gov. Patrick killed a bill authored by members of the House that would have provided $1.5 billion in additional funding to benefit all 5.4 million Texas students – signaling how far the lieutenant governor was willing to go to pass a voucher bill against the will of Texas voters.

While voucher supporters were unable to pass a bill in 2017, they have already begun laying the groundwork for a renewed push when the legislature meets again in 2019. The only reason powerful leaders like Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Abbott were unable to pass a voucher bill in 2017 is because Texas voters elected just enough pro-public education legislators to stop those bills from becoming law.

The reality is that unless Texans elect more legislators who promise to actively oppose vouchers, the threat of a voucher bill passing in the future remains high.


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!

12 Days of Voting: Payroll Deduction

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 payroll deduction.


Politicians like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) have led the effort for two sessions now to make it more difficult for educators to join professional associations such as ATPE by attempting to ban educators from voluntarily deducting membership dues from their paychecks. Gov. Greg Abbott added his support ahead of last year’s special session when he followed Patrick’s lead in deeming the issue a “priority.”

What’s more, the Republican Party of Texas has included payroll deduction legislation in its TOP 5 legislative priorities for the 2019 legislative session. That means Republican legislators will be facing enormous pressure from their party to spend the 86th Texas Legislature attacking teachers.

Proponents have marketed payroll deduction bills as an effort to keep the government from collecting “union dues” with taxpayer resources. The truth is that it isn’t about unions or taxpayer resources at all; it’s about educators.

Consider this: The major bills on this topic have explicitly singled out educators, regardless of union status — but exempted major unions representing other public employees. These bills would actually have a greater impact on NON-union professional associations such as ATPE, and they specifically protect other public employee professionals who are members of unions that collectively bargain. Collective bargaining is illegal for school employees, and no one in Texas is forced to join a union or pay union dues thanks to our right-to-work laws.That’s why the legislative efforts to make it harder for educators to spend their own money to voluntarily join a professional association are so misguided here in Texas.

Further evidence of the politically motivated nature of these bills is the fact that payroll deduction of professional dues does not cost the state or taxpayers anything. That’s a fact that authors of the bills were finally forced to concede during the 2017 legislative sessions but other politicians have continued to ignore. Payroll offices exist regardless of whether association membership dues is among the long list of optional deductions available to public employees. Those other deductions include things like taxes, insurance, newspapers, health clubs, and charitable donations. Furthermore, a school district can even charge associations a fee if it determines there is any additional cost associated with deducting dues for the group’s members. (See Texas Education Code, Section 22.001.)

During debate on the issue last year, bill author Sen. Joan Huffman said she was comfortable exempting certain public employees deemed “first responders” because they “serve the community… with great honor and distinction.” Educators — just like firefighters, police officers, and EMS professionals — are public servants and everyday heroes. In the wake of tragic news stories of the school shootings that have happened far too often, it is hard to imagine educators, many of whom took bullets or sheltered their students to protect them from gunfire, would be considered anything other than first responders who serve their communities with great honor and distinction.

The real goal behind discriminatory payroll deduction bills like these is to weaken the combined influence of educators (as well as public education supporters as a whole) at the Texas Capitol by attacking their ability to conveniently and safely support professional associations that fight to give teachers a seat at the table when it comes to setting public education policy.

There are elected officials and candidates who respect your profession, and there are those who don’t — and who are already attempting to weaken your voice. Bills aimed at demoralizing and silencing educators at the Capitol will certainly be filed again in 2019. If Texans don’t turn out in force during the 2018 elections and select more officeholders who value educators and respect their service, those bills will become law and more of the doors of government will be closed to educators.


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!

12 Days of Voting: School Safety

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 school safety.


School safety is an issue that has recently come to the forefront of public policy discussions in the wake of the deadly school shooting earlier this year in Santa Fe, Texas.

The Texas House Committee on Appropriations heard from Santa Fe ISD officials in October, and discussed funding for school safety. Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) called it one of the most important issues the legislature will take up next session. The meeting was one of several the House and Senate have held over the summer to discuss different aspects of school safety.

The House and Senate have each issued reports on how they intend to tackle the issue during the upcoming legislative session, and Gov. Greg Abbott has released a list of recommendations as well. More recently, the governor’s office released a list of actions that have already been taken to address school safety, including many by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

The agency’s plans to address school safety include a $54 million exceptional item in the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR). Commissioner Mike Morath explained to the House committee that the actions taken to date as well as the agency’s budget request are aligned to Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety plan. The commissioner said that federal funds would likely not help pay for school hardening efforts, which would fall instead to state and local taxpayers. Morath also suggested creating safety standards for facilities, such as new schools, that would force compliance.

The ideas discussed by legislators include adding more school counselors, incorporating telemedicine to help identify students who may be prone to violence, and adding more armed personnel on campus — including police officers and staff, such as school marshals. Legislators also contemplated adding metal detectors and asked architects for advice how to harden school campuses and make it more difficult for a shooter to penetrate campus security.

With the terror of the most recent shooting fresh on Texans’ minds, there will be a push to pass some sort of legislation aimed at school security in the upcoming session. Lawmakers will be faced with finding a balance between physical security and ensuring the mental, emotional, and psychological well-being of students, while avoiding turning schools into buildings that resemble prisons. They’ll also be faced with meeting this challenge with limited budgetary resources.

It will be a complicated discussion, and educators deserve to be part of it. But let’s not forget who will be at the center of those conversations: the legislators and statewide officeholders elected on Nov. 6. Voters who care about school security and the steps that should be taken to keep all students, staff members, and school visitors safe should keep these issues in mind when casting their votes.

 


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!

12 Days of Voting: Turnout

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 voter turnout.


It may sound funny, but when you cast your ballot this week, you’re not just voting for yourself.

You first have to understand that Texas voter turnout is unfortunately pretty abysmal. Even in big election years like the 2016 Presidential Election, only 59 percent of registered voters in Texas actually voted. That’s barely more than half!

In effect, the half that voted made the decision for the half who could have voted, but chose to stay home.

When there’s no race for president, the numbers look even worse – especially when it comes to primaries. Just 10 percent of registered voters participated in the 2018 Republican Primary, while seven percent participated in the Democratic Primary. Turnout for the runoffs that followed ranged between one and three percent. Yikes!!!

Imagine – just one percent deciding races that will affect all 28 million people living in Texas. According to the math, each of those voters would effectively do the choosing for 183 people!!!

Turnout for the last midterm elections in 2014 was just 34 percent, and if turnout is the same this year, then each voter will be speaking for about five other Texas residents. If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain!

ATPE state officers met with Speaker Joe Straus in March 2017.

With Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) retiring, the first order of business when the next legislature convenes in January 2019 will be for members of the House to elect a new speaker. Will the 150 members elected next week choose a leader who, like Straus, works to increase public education funding and defend kids and classrooms against harmful legislation? Or will they choose someone who will lower the gates to vouchers bills and declare open season on educators?

It all depends on the outcome of this election.

How much so? According to election news website txelects.com, organizations devoted to defunding and privatizing public schools spent more than a million dollars fighting public education allies in runoff races. These groups accounted for more than a third of the $3.3 million total raised by all candidates in the Republican runoffs. Would you spend a million dollars if you didn’t think you’d get something in return?

The people who want to privatize public schools aren’t sitting this election out. That means educators can’t afford to either.


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!

12 Days of Voting: School Finance

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 school finance.


Perhaps no issue impacts every Texan more than school finance. For all of the lip service politicians pay to reducing property taxes, the only way Texans will ever see meaningful property tax relief is if the legislature puts more state money into public education.

Journalists such as Texas Monthly‘s R.G. Ratcliffe and the Texas Tribune‘s Ross Ramsey have exhaustively reported how state lawmakers have gradually reduced the share of state dollars spent on schools, shifting the burden instead onto the backs of local taxpayers. School funding has gone from a roughly fifty-fifty split between state and local funding sources a decade ago to a situation in which local taxes make up more than half of the burden, with the state ponying up just 38 percent. That’s an inconvenient reality for some incumbent lawmakers who want to place the blame elsewhere for the rising costs on Texas homeowners, even going so far as to characterize well-documented reports of the decline in state funding as “fake news.”

The current school finance structure that relies so heavily on locally generated property taxes is a great deal for legislators: First, they run campaigns promising to lower property taxes and rein in government spending. Then they get points for reducing state spending, and let local officials face the music when they’re forced to jack up property taxes to make up for the state’s miserliness. The budget signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017 actually reduced the amount of state dollars spent on public schools by $1.1 billion, and let the balance fall once again into the laps of local taxpayers.

Yet some legislators have shown an interest in restoring the balance. Under the leadership of House Speaker Joe Straus, the Texas House passed legislation during the 85th Texas Legislature that would have put as much as $1.9 billion in new dollars into the public education system. The infusion of new money was intended to begin the long process of fixing the state’s “lawful but awful” system of public school finance. The Texas Senate slashed that amount to $530 million, then ultimately killed the legislation as payback for the House’s refusal to pass a voucher bill.

Those hoping for school finance reform in 2017 had to settle instead on a new state commission created to study school finance. We’ve watched closely as this commission has spent the summer looking at different aspects of school funding, but its recommendations won’t be made public until shortly before the legislative session begins. It’s anyone’s guess as to what those recommendations might entail.

The next chance to fix the school finance system and lighten the load on local taxpayers will come when the legislature meets in 2019, but public education supporters will have their work cut out for them. The next two-year state budget is expected to be even tighter, and lawmakers will have to carefully prioritize spending in order to meet even their most basic funding obligations.

What this means is simple: Texans will only see lower property taxes and better-funded schools if they elect legislators and leaders who will prioritize public school funding as a core principle. Without additional public education supporters in the Texas Capitol, the current leadership can be expected to continue the trend of defunding public schools and dumping the load onto local taxpayers.

Our kids deserve better.


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!

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!