Tag Archives: Dan Patrick

Texas school districts receive first A-F letter grades

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the new A-F letter grade ratings for Texas school districts today. Despite concerns from educators and other advocates, the legislature, with strong backing from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has worked to adopt and finalize the new rating system over the past three legislative sessions.

ATPE was among the education groups to express strong concerns about moving to an A-F rating system, especially considering the basis of any rating depends on the underlying accountability system that is too heavily reliant on state standardized tests. In a press release issued by ATPE, we reiterated our concerns and called for additional study of the new system’s impact.

“Educators across Texas have opposed assigning overly simplistic letter grades that may unfairly label schools and their staff and students as failures,” said Jennifer Mitchell, ATPE Governmental Relations Director. “Many educators worry that A-F will stigmatize schools with accountability grades based disproportionately upon data from high-stakes standardized tests.”

Today’s release of A-F ratings is specific to Texas school districts (campuses are not scheduled to receive A-F ratings until next school year), but campus accountability ratings according to the previous system were also released. While ATPE is happy to see an historic reduction in the number of Texas campuses requiring improvement, we stress that we should be considering more than a letter grade when praising their success.

“ATPE recognizes that under any accountability system so heavily determined by test scores, there will be winners and losers,” said Mitchell. “It is important not to overestimate the significance of poor grades assigned to some school districts, but it is equally vital to look behind the letter grades of those schools that have shown improvement. Additional study, much like research commissioned by ATPE in the past to examine the factors influencing successful school turnaround, is warranted with the roll-out of this new system.”

Mitchell referred to a teacher quality study commissioned by ATPE in 2008, in which researchers from the University of Texas explored strategies implemented at schools that had shown significant improvement in their students’ test scores. The researchers interviewed teachers and school leaders at those schools and found that they were prioritizing such practices as recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, empowering teachers to make instructional decisions, and providing high-quality professional development and financial resources.

TEA released its own series of press releases on the topic of school accountability ratings, covering a high-level breakdown of the A-F district ratings and the campus accountability ratings. Commissioner Mike Morath also praised the 153 school districts that received an A rating today.

Senate school safety panel issues recommendations

The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security released its interim report today. The charges were issued by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick following the school shooting at Santa Fe High School. The four charges involved studying (1) school infrastructure and design to address school security; (2) programs within schools aimed at school safety; (3) the root causes of school mass murders; and (4) the effectiveness of protective order laws in Texas and other states.

Interim charge number three, which focused on mental health issues in schools, received a considerable amount of attention in the report. School counselors and other mental health resources are emphasized under the correlating recommendations. The fewest number of recommendations surfaced from studying protective order laws, which involve temporarily restricting firearm access to certain individuals who pose extreme risk. No recommendation was made to enact a version of protective order laws known as a “red flag” law, which Governor Abbott proposed but Patrick strongly rejected. Regarding firearms, there is a recommendation to consider funding for supporting school marshal programs.

The full recommendations from each charge are listed below. The full report cab viewed here.

School infrastructure and design recommendations

  • Consider legislation to allow additional funds for school districts to implement enhanced physical security including metal detectors, alarm systems, cameras, and hardened entrances.
  • Consider updates to school building codes to ensure best practices are used in designing new school facilities.
  • Consider legislation to clarify that school districts must identify a campus administrator who is responsible for identifying and maintaining contact with local law enforcement, local emergency agencies, and fire departments in their security audits.
  • Consider legislation giving TEA oversight to ensure required school security audits are being completed and ensure TEA has the staff necessary to oversee compliance.
  • Direct the State Fire Marshal’s Office to review and provide guidance on procedures and sequences concerning school evacuations for unverified emergencies and the required number of fire drills mandated for schools.

School safety programs recommendations

  • Consider the appropriate level of funding for and involvement of fusion centers.
  • Review Penal Code Chapter 46.03 and provisions by which school districts authorize individuals to carry concealed weapons onto campus and consider establishing a minimum standard for training hours.
  • Consider legislation to allow additional funds for training for school marshals and individuals licensed to carry under Chapter 46.03 of the Penal Code.

Root causes of school violence recommendations

  • Consider legislation to direct TEA to incorporate school counselor data into PEIMS regarding location and number of students served.
  • Review the effectiveness and unintended consequences of “zero tolerance” polices in Texas schools.
  • Consider methods to increase the availability of school counselors, Licensed Specialists in School Psychology, and school social workers in schools, particularly in rural and remote areas of the state.
  • Consider legislation codifying the duties and responsibilities of school counselors, Licensed Specialists in School Psychology, and school social workers.
  • Consider legislation incorporating threat assessment teams into Health Advisory or School Safety Committees already on campus.
  • Expand the availability of Mental Health First Aid training for all school district employees interacting with students.
  • Review the use of Disciplinary Alternative Placement Education Programs (DAEP) and consider behavior intervention methods.
  • Consider expanding the use of telemedicine and telepsychiatry to help children in crisis obtain access to mental health services before violence occurs.
  • Consider legislation to strengthen the state’s mental health system by leveraging the expertise of state medical schools by creating psychiatry hubs that connect pediatricians seeking consultation with experts in mental health.

Protective order laws recommendations

  • Consider legislation to clarify current statute on whether and when an individual convicted of domestic violence may possess a firearm legally.
  • Consider legislation to clarify current statute regarding the return of firearms to individuals who have been detained and declared to no longer be a risk to themselves or others.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 27, 2018

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


The Board of Directors for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) met this week to discuss the pension fund’s assumed rate of return. Today the board voted to reduce the rate of return from 8% to 7.25%, anticipating a decline in investment revenue. It is now up to the legislature to provide additional funding for TRS in order to prevent a shortfall and stretch the already dwindling resources of educators even further. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at the TRS board meeting and explains more about the decision in this post, which also includes a fact sheet provided by TRS staff.


 This week the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security met to discuss the last of the four charges assigned to them by the Lt. Governor. The panel heard invited and public testimony regarding best practices for preventing violence in schools and other topics. Not much longer after the hearing, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a statement in which he said he would not support “red flag” laws, laws aimed at seizing the guns of those deemed a danger to themselves or others, citing failed legislation from last session as well as Gov. Abbott’s recent reticence to support red flag laws. The committee will now deliberate and release a report during the first week of August. More details about the hearing can be found in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick currently has no plans to debate his Democratic opponent, Mike Collier, despite repeated calls from the Collier campaign and many voters interested in the race for lieutenant governor. In a statement to the Texas Tribune, Allen Blakemore, a strategist for the Patrick campaign said the following:

“It’s no secret Lt. Governor Patrick relishes debates, but since his opponent shows no sign of grasping even the most basic rudiments of state government, our campaign has no plans to debate him,”

In response to this statement, the grassroots educators group Texans for Public Education offered to facilitate the debate by offering assistance “with location,  moderation, with time and date…” and other details. The full statement from the group can be read here.

Read more in this story from the Texas Tribune.


Earlier this week, both the U.S. House and Senate approved legislation aimed at revising the federal law that governs career and technical education (CTE). The Senate first passed a bill reauthorizing the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The House concurred with the Senate’s changes and the bill was sent to the President. At this time, President Trump has not yet signed the bill, but it is likely that he will. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provides more information here.


From The Texas Tribune: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has “no plans” to debate Democratic opponent Mike Collier

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune
July 23, 2018

Photos of Mike Collier and Dan Patrick from the Texas Tribune.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has “no plans” to debate Democratic opponent Mike Collier” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick does not intend to debate his Democratic challenger, Mike Collier, before Election Day, according to Patrick’s campaign.

“It’s no secret Lt. Governor Patrick relishes debates, but since his opponent shows no sign of grasping even the most basic rudiments of state government, our campaign has no plans to debate him,” Patrick strategist Allen Blakemore said in a statement to the Tribune. “There isn’t anyone in the Lone Star State who isn’t absolutely clear about where Dan Patrick stands on the issues. He told us what he was going to do, then he did it. That’s why Dan Patrick has the overwhelming support of the conservative majority in Texas.”

Collier has not formally challenged Patrick to any debates but has needled him on Twitter over the topic, suggesting the incumbent will not spar with him because he does not want to discuss his record.

“The Lt. Governor is rejecting debates before invitations are even sent out by media,” Collier said in a statement. “As I assumed he would, he’s dodging and refusing to answer for his record.”

“If the Lt. Governor ‘relishes debates’ then I see no reason why we shouldn’t hold several all across the great state of Texas,” Collier added.

Patrick’s snub of Collier comes as debate drama heats up in two other statewide races. In recent weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott and his Democratic opponent, Lupe Valdez, have both accepted debate invitations — though not to the same event. At the same time, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Democratic rival Beto O’Rourke have gone back and forth over when to start coordinating debates, with O’Rourke pushing for six meetings and Cruz expressing openness to debating but not committing to any specifics yet.

Patrick’s campaign was similarly dismissive about debating his primary challenger, Scott Milder, who the lieutenant governor easily defeated. After Milder issued a debate challenge to Patrick in January, Blakemore called it the “unmistakable gasps of an attention starved candidate” and similarly insisted Patrick’s issue positions are widely known. Milder is now backing Collier.

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

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/07/23/lt-gov-dan-patrick-no-plans-debate-democratic-opponent-mike-collier/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Senate school safety panel discusses gun protective order laws

The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security met today to cover its final charge covering protective order laws, which involve temporarily restricting firearm access to certain individuals who pose extreme risk. The full charge reads:

Examine whether current protective order laws are sufficient or whether the merits of Extreme Risk Protective Orders, or “Red Flag” laws, should be considered for seeking a temporary removal of firearms from a person who poses an immediate danger to themselves or others, only after legal due process is provided with a burden of proof sufficient to protect Second Amendment rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

The committee first heard invited testimony from state officials, who explained current state and federal protective order laws as well as similar laws in other states. The invited testifiers also included representatives from the following stakeholder groups: The Texas District and County Attorneys Association, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Texas State Rifle Association, Texas Gun Sense, and an attorney who works on second amendment rights.

The issue brought forth invited and public testifiers on both sides of the issue. Some testifiers provided input on the value of protective order laws in other states, the need for revisions to current state laws, suggestions on what parameters should be used to identify those who could be subject to temporary gun removal, and other best practices for utilizing the laws to prevent gun violence in schools. However, others argued that alternative laws in other states are overly restrictive, that protective order laws fail to guarantee due process, and that Texas laws already in place can serve to intervene in order to prevent future potential gun violence by those who may pose a risk.

Now that the committee has concluded its work taking testimony on the four charges assigned by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, they are tasked with writing a report on their findings. Those findings are due to the Lt. Gov. by the first week of August. Stay tuned for more from Teach the Vote as the committee releases its report and the legislature prepares to address school safety in the upcoming 2019 session.

Senate school safety committee looks at mental health

The Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security met yesterday at the Capitol. The committee has previously discussed resources and programs to help schools prevent school violence and school infrastructure and design to address school security. This time, the committee turned its attention to mental health, and expert after expert shared that more resources are needed. The complete committee charge:

Examine the root cause of mass murder in schools including, but not limited to, risk factors such as mental health, substance use disorders, anger management, social isolation, the impact of high intensity media coverage — the so-called “glorification” of school shooters — to determine the effect on copy cat shootings, and the desensitization to violence resulting from video games, music, film, and social media. Recommend strategies to early identify and intercept high-risk students, as well as strategies to promote healthy school culture, including character education and community support initiatives.

It is no surprise that the need for resources was a regular theme in yesterday’s hearing. A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that up to 1 in 5 children in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year. That means up to 20% of the children in our Texas classroom and schools are faced with a mental issue of some kind. Those can interfere with a students ability to learn, result in classroom disruptions, or even become a threat to school security. Testifiers relayed resources in various forms to address these issues.

Suggested resources included more counselors, psychologists, programs, and training, all of which cost money – money that many on the committee didn’t sound keen on spending. In a previous hearing, a retired principal spoke about the effect large class sizes have on a teachers ability to know her students individually. Addressing this challenge is another issue that would require funding. Read more about the hearing and the issue of funding in this piece from the Texas Tribune.

The committee has one remaining charge to study prior to issuing a report to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on its findings. The final charge asks the committee to consider whether Texas’s current protective order laws are sufficient or more should be done to aid the temporary removal of firearms from those posing an immediate danger. A hearing to discuss this charge is scheduled for Tuesday, July 24.

Senate Education Committee hears from ATPE on teacher compensation

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann gave invited testimony at the Senate Education Committee’s interim hearing, March 26, 2018.

The Senate Education Committee met Monday to discuss three interim charges assigned to the committee by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: teacher compensation, classroom conduct, and the Texas special education corrective active plan. ATPE served as invited testimony on a panel specific to teacher compensation.

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann shared with committee members a number of things that should be considered when developing any compensation plan for educators, first and foremost that plans be funded, sustainable, and built from an adequate base. ATPE shared support for the minimum salary schedule and emphasized that levels of pay are more impactful when they are based on more meaningful step increases.

From a policy angle, ATPE shared that plans should be based on valid data and a meaningful picture of teaching, explaining that student standardized test scores are a woefully incomplete picture of a teacher’s success and that research has failed to validate the use of standardized test scores as a fair and viable measure. Kuhlmann also told legislators that any plan should be locally developed, transparent, and should involve participants in the development and revision processes.

Finally, ATPE stressed the need to consider and develop compensation plans in alignment with the entire teaching pipeline. For example, while pay is a critical component, working conditions remain another highly reported reason for teachers leaving the classroom. Efforts to support teachers once they are no longer novice, offer more time in the day for teachers to plan and prepare their lessons, and even enhance access to supplies can have an impact on retaining and recruiting our best teachers. Preparing teachers adequately before they enter the classroom and enhancing non-salary compensation benefits can have the same impact.

Panelists from Dallas ISD, San Antonio ISD, and Richardson ISD shared individual aspects of their respective compensation plans and discussed successes where they exist. Commissioner Morath presented data on the Texas teaching profession, confirming that on average teachers receive little to no increase in their salary when adjusted for inflation. It has become increasingly more concerning that while starting pay for a Texas teacher can be competitive, the lack of increase over time leaves little incentive to stay in teaching.

Watch the full hearing to listen to the discussion on compensation or to hear the conversation on the other two interim charges. The committee will reconvene next week, Wednesday, April 4, to discuss virtual education, “high quality education opportunities,” and the federal e-rate program.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 9, 2018

Here is this week’s wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


Tuesday was primary Election Day in Texas, and there is a lot to unpack. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has an inital analysis of the primary results here, and he highlights two major takeaways after Tuesday night: voter turnout increased and incumbents did well.

Voter turnout hit record highs in both parties. Like Exter points out in his post, a Texas Educators Vote Coalition statement praising  voter turnout in the primary election also notes that turnout increased across Texas by almost 700,000 voters compared to the most recent midterm primary election in 2014. The number of Democratic voters getting to the polls exceeded 1 million, while Republican voter totals topped off at more than 1.5 million. Both parties saw an increase in their voter turnout, with Democrats nearly doubling the total number of voters since 2014 (a number that represented a midterm primary record high for the party not hit since 1994). Republicans experienced a more modest increase in the largely red state, but the party’s turnout still represented record numbers.

As a proud member of the Texas Educators Vote Coalition, ATPE is thrilled to see the uptick in civic engagement and encourages educators and other voters to maintain that energy through November and future elections. ATPE was also excited to see a large percentage of ATPE-supported candidates prevail in their elections; Exter’s recap of the election has more on those results. While many are focused on the bigger races at the top of the ticket, it is important to consider all of the great candidates elected further down ballot. One thing is clear based on voter turnout, the energy built among educators, and the impact already felt: this movement is only beginning!

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) submitted Texas’s final state plan to satisfy the new federal education law, the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA), this week. The final plan has been in the making for quite some time. Here is a quick recap:

The final plan submitted this week reflects a number of revisions required by ED in their initial feedback. TEA’s press release announcing this week’s submission can be read here. To read the final plan or learn more about the Texas ESSA plan and related content, visit TEA’s ESSA web page. The plan must now receive a final review by Secretary Betsy DeVos, but she is not tied to a certain time period for revisions. On Monday, DeVos addressed members of the Council of Chief State School Officers at their annual conference, offering them “tough love” over what she considered state ESSA plans that lacked creativity and innovation.

 


ATPE submitted comments this week on new proposed Commissioner’s rules regarding certain out-of-state educators. These rules would exempt educators that are certified out of state and who meet certain qualifications from Texas required certification assessments as they work to obtain certification in Texas. The rule proposal stemmed from legislation passed last session. ATPE encouraged the commissioner to raise the standard from one to at least two years of experience in order for an out-of-state educator to benefit from the exemption. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann writes more about ATPE’s comments, the proposed rules, and context for the legislation here.

 


The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met again in Austin this week, this time to discuss “efficiency” at the classroom, campus, and district levels. A panel of invited witnesses was dedicated to each category. The classroom efficiency panel focused on blended learning, while the campus efficiency panel featured partnerships with charters and higher education. The district efficiency panel largely entailed discussions regarding charter schools. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and has a full report here.

 


 

Why March 6 Matters: Healthcare

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at healthcare for active and retired educators.


In our first post of this series we examined teacher pay, which lags behind the national average. While paychecks are a major concern, Texas also spends less than any other state on employee benefits, funding them only at about $967 per pupil, which includes the cost of health insurance. In fact, Texas spends less than our neighboring states Oklahoma and New Mexico, which are both under the national average as well but are spending $1,505 and $1,905 per pupil respectively, despite having significantly less wealth per capita than Texas (U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances: 2014, G14-ASPEF, released May 2016).

The ever-increasing amount of money being taken out of educators’ paychecks for healthcare is primarily due to the fact that state funding and state-mandated district funding for health insurance, including the TRS-ActiveCare plan used by many districts for their employees, has remained unchanged since the program first began some 17 years ago.

When the Legislature first decided to subsidize teacher health insurance premiums back in 2001, the $225 contribution for each employee (made up of $75 from the state and $150 from the school district) was in line with what private employers were paying toward healthcare for their employees. Since that time, health insurance inflation generally has been between eight and ten percent per year, and educator premiums have increased more than 250 percent. Also during that time frame, many private employers have increased what they pay toward employee health insurance premiums, but Texas’s funding of the healthcare program for public school employees has fallen way behind.

Legislative inaction has now led to an insurance program for school district employees that is more burdensome than beneficial, and for many educators, it amounts to a pay cut year after year. Back In November 2014, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) released its TRS-Care Sustainability and TRS-ActiveCare Affordability Study that was commissioned by the 83rd legislature. It outlined numerous options for lawmakers to consider in dealing with the looming healthcare crisis for educators. Despite those recommendations, the legislature has failed to address exploding healthcare costs for active employees.

One reason the legislature has neglected to address healthcare costs for active employees, including during the most recent 2017 legislative sessions, is the sad fact that the state’s health insurance program for retired educators, TRS-Care, is in even worse shape. After years of inadequately funding retirees’ health insurance, the legislature has now faced back-to-back sessions in which the program was at risk of running out of money and collapsing in on itself —a prospect that would leave hundreds of thousands of retired educators with no health insurance, dramatically limiting their access to healthcare when they most need it.

Back in 2015, the 84th Texas legislature opted not to address the funding formulas that determine how our state pays for TRS-Care. Instead, they made a $700 million supplemental appropriation to keep TRS-Care afloat for one more budget cycle.

By the time the 85th legislature arrived in Austin in January 2017, the TRS-Care shortfall had ballooned to $1.2 billion. Again, lawmakers were unwilling to address the underlying funding formulas, and they similarly declined to make even a one-time appropriation to cover the full cost. Instead, the Senate under the guidance of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Joan Huffman, who chaired the Senate Committee on State Affairs that oversees TRS, pushed forward a plan that cut the cost of TRS-Care to the state by shifting more costs to retirees.

It’s worth nothing that retired educators have not seen a cost of living adjustment to increase their pensions for over a decade, during which time they’ve also had to endure dramatic reductions in their healthcare benefits as a result of restructuring of the health insurance plan. That combination of dwindling purchasing power due to the effects of inflation on stagnant pension payments and crushing new healthcare costs caused such an outcry from retired educators that by the time legislators came back to Austin in the summer of 2017 for a special session, they felt compelled to put a modest amount of one-time extra dollars into the system to temporarily soften the blow of the impending changes to TRS-Care. However, those additional one-time funds were only a short-term band-aid on a much larger problem that remains.

Even with the draconian measures taken by the 85th legislature, resulting in significant rate hikes for many plan participants, TRS-Care is projected still to have a funding shortfall that will have to be addressed by the 86th legislature. In other words, lawmakers must act in 2019 if TRS-Care is to continue to exist for retired educators

Finding real solutions to the crisis of access to affordable healthcare for the state’s active and retired educators is a complex and expensive task. It cannot and will not be achieved by legislators whose singular priority is creating the appearance of cutting state spending without solving the problems faced by our state’s more than 1 million active and retired school employees. The elections that will determine who occupies those critical legislative seats and will have the power to decide the future of healthcare funding for educators are happening right now. Active and retired public school employees who have dedicated their lives to serving and educating our 5.4 million young Texans have the power to shape the outcome of this battle simply by voting in the 2018 primaries.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on school finance and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting in the primary and making informed choices at the polls. Keep in mind that it is illegal to use school district resources to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, but there is no prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

Why March 6 Matters: Retirement

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at your 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 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 recent news from the TRS Board of Trustees that it intends to vote 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 educators’ retirement and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election taking place now. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!