Tag Archives: general election

12 Days of Voting: Healthcare

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 healthcare.


Believe it or not, Texas 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 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 Nov. 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 largely ignored exploding healthcare costs for active employees.

One reason the legislature has neglected to address active school employees’ healthcare costs, 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 noting 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 to save costs. 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 one 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 on Nov. 6.


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!

Election do’s and don’ts and perspectives of the Texas AG candidates

If you’re reading this blog post, you no doubt know that today is the first day of early voting for the midterm elections; and that in just over two weeks the tone will be set for how the next legislature will address public education issues in the upcoming session.

With such an important election upon us, many Texas educators have asked, as public servants/employees, what can you do and what can’t you do with regard to election-related communication and other activities. To answer that question we created this handy document in coordination with our coalition partners at Texas Educators Vote.

Some of you may also be aware that in the lead-up to this election, Attorney General Ken Paxton put out a somewhat unusual document on how he would like to see Texas educators engage (or NOT engage) during this election. While the language in the document may not be clear, the AG’s intent certainly seems to be minimizing the pro-public education voter turnout. Please note that AG opinions, which this document does not even purport to be, are non-binding and do not have the force of law.

Justin Nelson, Paxton’s opponent in the Attorney General’s race, has issued the following statement in response to the document put out by Paxton.

We urge all educators to exercise their right to vote in this and every election.

Early voting starts TODAY with Educator Voting Day!

It’s time!

Early voting starts today in the 2018 midterm elections, in which Texas voters will decide a number of important state and federal races. Not only is Monday the first day to vote early, it’s also Educator Voting Day!

The 2018 elections are critical for educators, because the outcome will have a direct impact on education policy in the next legislative session. Educators fought hard last session to protect their classrooms and their profession, and only prevailed with the help of elected representatives who shared their interest in supporting our public schools. Many of those allies are retiring, however, and unless Texans elect more pro-public education candidates to replace them, things could go very differently next session.

via GIPHY

Ok, I’m ready to vote! So what do I do?

First off, click on the CANDIDATES tab here at Teach the Vote and enter your address to find out who’s running in your area. There you can look at each candidate’s answers to our education policy survey and review incumbents’ voting records. Then check out VoteTexas.org to find your nearest polling place.

If you’re having trouble finding a polling location, the easiest place to look is your home county’s election website. For example, if you live in Dallas, then a Google search for “Dallas county elections” will turn up DallasCountyVotes.org. This is the official website of the Dallas County Elections Department. Most counties will have a similar website that lists polling locations and times.

Times during the first week of early voting can vary by county. Some, such as Dallas County and Travis County, open the polls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Others, such as Harris County, limit the hours of early voting during the first week, then expand to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the second week.

Also don’t forget to bring your ID. You can see a list of accepted forms of voter identification here. If you are legally registered to vote but don’t have an ID, you can still vote by signing an affidavit the election judges are required to provide for this purpose.

Early voting runs today, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6. But there’s no need to wait! Head out and vote today, and make sure your friends, family, and colleagues vote as well. The future of our schools depends on it!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 19, 2018

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


The State Board of Education (SBOE) is seeking submissions from public school students aged 9-12 for its “Brand the Fund” art contest. The contest, which will pay a $3,000 cash prize to the winner and a $1000 cash prize to the runner up, is part of the SBOE’s plan to create a distinct brand identity for the Permanent School Fund. The fund was created in 1854 is now valued at $34 billion. The deadline to submit an entry to the “Brand the Fund” contest is Nov. 1. The contest rules and entry form can be found here.


ELECTION UPDATE: Monday, Oct. 22 kicks off the first week of early voting in Texas. It is also Educator Voting Day. Educators are encouraged to research candidates, have a plan to vote, and even bring friends, family, or other registered voters with them to the polls on Monday.

Educator Voting Day is an excellent way for educators to lead by example and model civic engagement for their students ahead of the upcoming Student Voting Day, which occurs on the first Friday of early voting, Oct. 26 this year.

You can learn more about the candidates in your district and their views on education by visiting the “Candidates” section on TeachtheVote.org. You can also generate a sample ballot using your address at Vote411.org. The battle at the ballot box is only just the beginning and educators are encouraged to turn up and out to advocate for their profession during this election.

 


The Pastors for Texas Children, a organization comprised of pastors who advocate for and support public education, will be holding several “Celebration of Education” events throughout the state. Each event is free to attend and will host speakers and community members involved in public education. The dates and cities for the events are as follows, and you can find more information about each event at the links below:

Last chance to register for Nov. 6 election

If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

It’s just that simple.

November 6 is less than a month away, and a crucial deadline is upon us. Tuesday, Oct. 9, is the last day for those who have not yet registered to vote to do so in order to cast your ballot.

This is also an important date for those who are registered to vote, but may have recently relocated. For example, you may have registered to vote in Harris County, but recently moved to Travis County. In that case, you have until tomorrow to register in Travis County; otherwise, you’d have to drive back to Harris County to cast your ballot Nov. 6.

So how do I register?

The Texas Secretary of State’s VoteTexas.org website tells you just about everything you need to know. First off, it allows you check if you’re already registered. If you’re not, there are two basic ways you can register.

The first method is to simply find your county’s voter registrar and fill out an application in person. The voter registrar is usually tax assessor-collector or county clerk, and their office is easy to find by doing a web search. The application is generally a single page and should take you less than five minutes. Your other option is to fill out the state’s online application and mail it to your county’s voter registrar by tomorrow. You can read more information about how to find an application by clicking here.

How do I know if I’m eligible to register to vote?

You are eligible to register to vote if:

  • You are a United States citizen;
  • You are a resident of the county where you submit the application;
  • You are at least 17 years and 10 months old, and you are 18 years of age on Election Day.
  • You are not a convicted felon (you may be eligible to vote if you have completed your sentence, probation, and parole); and
  • You have not been declared by a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be either totally mentally incapacitated or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.

The Texas Tribune also put together some voter registration resources here. Once you’ve registered to vote, make sure and go to TeachTheVote.org and click on the CANDIDATES tab to see who’s running in your area. You can view each’s candidate’s answers to our public education policy survey, as well as how incumbent legislators voted on important education issues last session.

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a hundred times: Legislative battles are won in November. If we fail to elect strong pro-public education candidates, we can’t expect to prevail when important education questions are debated in the Texas Legislature. This election is CRITICAL to making sure we move the ball forward, not backward.

Even if you’re already registered, you can do your part by informing friends and family that Tuesday is the last chance to register if they haven’t already – and make sure they follow through! Early voting begins Oct. 22 and runs through Nov. 2, and Election Day is Nov. 6.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 5, 2018

Here are highlights of this week’s education news, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. The board’s agenda includes revisiting a new certification rule that was recently vetoed by the State Board of Education and beginning a periodic review of the requirements for certification as a superintendent in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is at the meeting and has provided this report on today’s discussions.

 


Tuesday, Oct. 9, is the deadline to register to vote in the November 2018 general election. With statistics showing that Texas ranks dead last in the country for voter turnout, and with educators in other states making headlines by running for office and voting to oust elected officials who don’t support public schools, now is the time for Texas educators to make a big showing at the polls. The November general election will determine who holds such critical offices as Texas governor, lieutenant governor, and numerous seats in the state legislature and SBOE. Races for the Texas House will help determine who becomes our next House Speaker, and the people elected will be empowered to make crucial decisions that affect your paycheck, your working conditions, and most importantly, your students.

If you aren’t yet registered to vote, simply fill out an application and drop it in the mail no later than Tuesday. Not sure if you’re registered? Find out here. If you’re already registered, do you part to help others know about Tuesday’s deadline. Make sure your friends, family members, and even eligible students are registered to vote by Tuesday.

Once your registration is secure, the next step is to learn about the candidates who’ll be on your ballot. Our candidate profiles right here on Teach the Vote allow you to research all legislators’ voting records, the candidates’ responses to our survey on education issues, and more to help you make informed choices at the polls. If the candidates in your area haven’t answered our ATPE Candidate Survey, please encourage them to contact us. It’s a great tool for sharing their education views with voters.

 


 

 

Why November is important: It’s the maths, y’all

Politics involves a lot of math.

A candidate needs fifty percent of voters plus one in order to get elected to office. The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days, but can’t pass legislation until 60 of those days have passed – unless acting upon an emergency item declared by the governor.

Here’s another equation for you:

The Texas Senate consists of 31 members and requires a vote of three-fifths of those present and voting to pass most major legislation. That means if everyone is present, a bill needs the support of 19 senators to pass. In the current makeup of the Texas Senate, 20 are Republicans and 11 are Democrats.

This actually is an important bit of math for supporters of public education.

In the past legislative session alone, we’ve seen legislation harmful to public education pass along largely party line votes under the direction of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. This includes voucher bills to strip funding from public schools in order to create taxpayer-funded subsidies for private schools. It also includes payroll deduction bills designed to rob teachers of their influence at the Capitol by making it more difficult to join educator associations such as ATPE.

A recent article by the Texas Tribune put the Senate math in the context of the 2018 general election, and pointed out that the outcomes of a handful of races this November could have some very significant ramifications when it comes to the next legislative session.

Multiple senators who voted for vouchers and against teachers last session are currently up for reelection and facing serious challenges this November. The Texas Tribune highlighted three of the most high-profile races in which sitting senators now find themselves in the hot seat, in large part due to their past anti-public education votes: Sens. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), and Joan Huffman (R-Houston).

If just one of those incumbents lose their race, a single Republican could defy the lieutenant governor and stop a voucher bill in its tracks. If two are defeated, the lieutenant governor won’t have enough votes to force through anti-education bills along party lines as he did last session.

In the latter case, members would be forced to work across party lines – and the balance of power would shift away from the lieutenant governor, giving individual members more freedom to vote in the interests of their constituents, rather than party leaders.

There’s also a twist.

The special runoff election underway this week to fill the Senate District 19 seat previously held by a Democrat has attracted the lieutenant governor’s attention; Lt. Gov. Patrick knows flipping that seat would change the math again. That’s why it’s no surprise to see Patrick loudly campaigning for the pro-voucher Republican candidate running in that San Antonio-area special election that will be decided on Tuesday, Sept. 18:

Also, an unresolved dispute between Gov. Greg Abbott and retiring Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) means the 2019 legislative session will begin with the Senate one seat short. That lowers the magic number for passing bills via one party’s super-majority to only 18.

It’s tempting to look at this all in terms of “Rs” and “Ds,” but that ignores important issues like public education, where there are Republicans who disagree with the lieutenant governor, but either don’t number enough to overcome the magic number or fear the lieutenant governor’s current absolute power. Changing the math changes both.

File it under the list of reasons this upcoming general election is important. Maybe your friends aren’t the type to get hyped up about voting. Maybe they just don’t find elections that exciting. I offer an alternative appeal:

Math!

Now that’s exciting!