Pay every teacher more, and quit over-testing their students


The House Public Education Committee had a hearing on teacher compensation yesterday and heard from TSTA and other teacher groups. Education Commissioner Mike Morath was there too, officially wringing his hands over low teacher pay and high teacher turnover. (Yes, there is a connection.)

Thirty years ago, Morath told lawmakers, the average Texas teacher had 15 years’ experience. Now, most teachers you are likely to encounter are only in their first or second year in the classroom. And most college graduates are choosing other professions.

The solution, he proposed, was to pay a handful of the “best” teachers more, ignoring the fact that all Texas teachers, except for maybe a few high school football coaches, are underpaid.

On average, Texas teachers are paid $7,300 a year less than the national average, a gap that is growing wider, and you don’t cure that by forcing the so-called “cream of the crop” to jump through more STAAR hoops for a pay raise.

Moreover, almost 40 percent of those Texas teachers who haven’t given up on their professions are taking extra jobs during the school year to make ends meet, as TSTA’s latest moonlighting survey points out.

And it is not just teacher pay that is lagging. The state also under-funds school districts for basic school supplies and other educational needs. Teachers also are shelling out an average of $738 of their own money on school supplies each year, providing what amounts to a $250 million annual subsidy for the elected state officials who are neglecting their duty to adequately fund public education.

Next week, the attention will be diverted from teachers as Morath unveils the first A-F letter grades for school districts, which will be largely based on STAAR test scores and do nothing to improve teacher compensation or give one additional school child a greater opportunity to succeed.

The A-F grades are designed instead to give political cover to the governor, the lieutenant governor and their legislative allies who persist in shortchanging public schools, students and educators. They will use low grades to blame under-funded school districts and teachers – instead of themselves — for “failing” their students. And it will get worse next year when the letter grades are assigned to individual schools.

The real culprits who deserve an accountability kick are the officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who persist in over-testing students and under-funding their schools and their teachers. Remember that on Election Day and Vote Education First!




Another reason for educators to vote – sharks are circling their pensions


Retired teachers who already are worried about their state pensions will be even more threatened during next year’s legislative session, unless they start doing something about it now. The same warning holds true for active school employees who , sooner or later, also will be retirees.

So, you may ask, what else is new? With low salaries, modest pensions and rising health care costs, school employees and retirees are under constant attack by most of the powers that be in Austin. True enough.

But the 2019 session, which convenes in January, may be even worse, following last week’s decision by the Teacher Retirement System Board of Trustees to lower the assumed rate of investment return on the educators’ pension fund from 8 percent to 7.25 percent. It was a technical move, required by global economic factors, to maintain the financial integrity of a very strong fund. The action didn’t lower anyone’s monthly pension payment – only the Legislature can do that — but it nevertheless will have consequences for retirees and future retirees.

The first consequence is that the Legislature will have to increase contributions to the TRS fund to make up for the anticipated losses in investment income. The Legislature also will decide who pays the higher contributions. At present, teachers and other active school employees pay 7.7 percent of their salaries to the fund, the state pays 6.8 percent of the total teacher payroll and school districts pay 1.5 percent.

Texas’ contribution rate is the lowest of any state’s contribution rate to a teacher retirement fund. Nevertheless, the current state leadership, which has a history of shortchanging public education and educators, may not want to dig any deeper into the state budget. Instead, it may choose to add millions of dollars to the contributions that active teachers, school employees and school districts have to pay.

The Legislature could even choose to lower pension payments for retirees, although I am not predicting that will happen. At present, retirees’ monthly payments average only $2,060, which are among the lowest in the country, and most retired educators in Texas don’t get Social Security.

But the current leadership, if still in power in January, may attempt something equally detrimental for retired educators and future retirees because sharks already are circling, ready to grab an advantage from the opening that TRS has given them.

These sharks are the profiteers who want to wipe out TRS, as we know it, and its defined benefit plan for retirees and replace it with a riskier (for retirees) 401k-style, defined contribution plan. Each future retiree would determine his or her own contribution and roll the dice on future economic conditions to determine the eventual benefit.

A 401k can be a nice supplemental retirement fund for those who can afford it, and if the markets cooperate. But under-paid educators deserve and need a more-stable, defined benefit plan as their retirement base, especially educators who don’t receive Social Security benefits, which include most school employees in Texas.

But the 401k sharks are circling, salivating over all the lucrative management fees that could be pocketed from a $150 billion teacher pension fund and the hard-earned contributions that educators are making to it.

Such a conversion has been discussed in recent years without gaining much traction because of opposition from TSTA and other employee groups that recognize the dangers. But no sooner had TRS lowered its assumed rate of return last week than the sharks, including privatization advocates at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, were smelling fresh blood in the water.

And when the Texas Public Policy Foundation speaks, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and many members of the legislative majority listen and, more often than not, obey orders.

The best defense that educators and retirees have against the pension sharks is coming up on Nov. 6, Election Day. Early voting will start Oct. 22, and if you aren’t registered to vote, that deadline is Oct. 9. Abbott, Patrick and legislative offices will be on the ballot, and so will pro-public education and pro-retiree candidates endorsed by TSTA-PAC.

Vote Education First! Vote like your profession – and your pension – depend on it. Because they do.



Trying to defend the indefensible – Dan Patrick and high property taxes


As state senators in 2011, Dan Patrick and Glenn Hegar both voted for a state budget that slashed $5.4 billion in state funding from public education, thereby increasing pressure on local property taxpayers to fund schools. Now, Patrick, as lieutenant governor, and Hegar, as state comptroller, both claim to be concerned – wink, wink, nod, nod – that property taxes are so high.

Patrick’s phony “concern” is already well-known. Every time the Legislature meets, he proposes an unrealistic, political scheme to tie the hands of local elected officials, who set property tax rates to meet local needs, while blaming them for the property tax mess. In truth, Patrick is the culprit, ramming through state budgets that deliberately under-fund public education and transfer increasing amounts of the school funding burden to property taxes.

Ever since Patrick and his comrade-in-school neglect, Gov. Greg Abbott, have held the state’s top two offices, the state’s share of funding public education has steadily declined, while the share borne by local property taxpayers has risen. During the upcoming school year, the state share of the Foundation School Program will fall to 38 percent, while the local share will rise to 62 percent, the Legislative Budget Board has projected.

Mike Collier, Patrick’s TSTA-endorsed election opponent, called out the lieutenant governor for his false property tax relief claims in a recent oped in the Texas Tribune.  “To put it in Texas language, Dan Patrick keeps raising property taxes and lying about it,” Collier wrote.

Hegar then hurried to Patrick’s defense with a Tribune oped of his own, in which he claimed to “set the record straight” about Patrick and property taxes. He discussed the law governing how property values are determined for school districts and suggested that alone was the main reason that property taxes are so high.

Rising property values, of course, are a major factor in rising property tax levels. But Hegar neglected to point out that school boards could lower property tax rates and the overall property tax burden if Patrick, Abbott and their legislative allies would change the outdated school finance system and increase state funding for education. Patrick slammed the door on that idea as recently as last year, which was the last time the Legislature met.

Patrick has no credibility as a property tax reducer, and Hegar is damaging his every time he comes to Patrick’s defense.

Vote Education First!


Patrick shoots down idea to protect schools


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he wants to protect students and educators from gun violence, but his first priority is keeping the firearms industry happy. Gov. Greg Abbott also is a major promoter of firearms, but in the days immediately following the shootings at Santa Fe High School, Abbott at least proposed that the Legislature consider enacting a red flag law to try to keep guns out of the hands of the most dangerous people. Now, he apparently is retreating.

In the realm of “gun control,” a red flag law would be modest but potentially effective in isolated cases. Such a law would make it easier for judges to issue orders removing or blocking access to firearms for people who have been legally determined to be potentially dangerous to themselves or others, such as people with some mental issues or individuals involved in incidents of domestic violence.

Patrick instructed a Senate committee to hold a public hearing on the red flag proposal, but it apparently was only to give gun owners the opportunity to flock to the Capitol to remind senators what a bad idea they thought a red flag law was. Once the show was over, Patrick announced that he intended to kill the legislation next session. (He is assuming he will be reelected in November, and he will be if educators don’t get out in force and vote for Patrick’s opponent, Mike Collier, for lieutenant governor.)

“I have never supported these (red flag) policies, nor has the majority of the Texas Senate,” Patrick said.

Patrick also said Abbott was backing off his red flag proposal, and the governor, who seldom lets political courage dictate his performance, may be. Following complaints from conservatives and leaders in his own party, Abbott already had indicated, in a tweet, that his resolve – if he ever had any – to see the Legislature enact a red flag law was melting.

Patrick and Abbott would rather keep the firearms industry happy, as well as the thousands of Texas voters who believe that the Second Amendment allows no room for common sense or public safety. Remember, both have proposed arming more teachers, a dangerous idea that would allow the gun industry to sell even more guns but wouldn’t effectively reduce gun violence in schools.

After the Santa Fe shootings, Abbott and Patrick also proposed making school facilities more secure against armed intruders and improving mental health services for students, ideas that have merit but are very expensive. Neither has proposed a substantial source of funding to help budget-strapped school districts implement these ideas, and, given their history of shortchanging public education, they aren’t likely to.

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who tried but failed to get a red flag law enacted last year, reacted to Patrick’s opposition. “There are some very disturbed people who shouldn’t have guns, at least temporarily, and we believe we can devise a way to identify them fairly and constitutionally while protecting Second Amendment rights,” Moody said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick states opposition to “red flag” gun laws





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