Category Archives: voting and elections

Abbott “discovers” public education; must be election time

 

Gov. Greg Abbott is continuing his preelection, “pro-public education” tour, making promises that most Texas educators and parents want to hear but aren’t likely to ever come to pass as long as Abbott remains governor.

He had a recent oped in The Dallas Morning News, which may have run in other newspapers as well, carrying the headline, “Gov. Abbott: Texas must boost school funding.” Yes, Texas certainly needs to do that, but it won’t happen unless we retire Abbott.

Let’s take a look at what the governor says in his oped and contrast that with his record:

What Abbott says now:  Citing the Texas Supreme Court’s latest ruling on the issue, he says the school funding system needs “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms.”

Abbott’s record:  As attorney general, he went to court to defend the current, inadequate funding system, which the Supreme Court upheld, despite its tough rhetoric. And as governor last year, he and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick slammed the door on a bill approved by the House to begin reforming the finance system and increase education funding by $1.8 billion.

What Abbott says now:   “Just throwing more money at a flawed system isn’t going to fix anything.”

Abbott’s record:  State government has never “thrown” money at education, and Abbott hasn’t even sprinkled money on schools. The moldy,  “throwing more money” line is older than Abbott and has always been used as a political excuse to under-fund public schools.

What Abbott says now:  “We need to pay our best teachers more.” (More than $100,000, he says.)

Abbott’s record:  He hasn’t paid any teacher “more.” He floated out a fake “teacher pay raise” before a special legislative session last year but never proposed a way to pay for it, and he still hasn’t, despite all his talk about six-figure teacher salaries. And those “best teachers” he is talking about singling out now would be determined by STAAR test scores. Meanwhile, average teacher pay in Texas is $7,300 less than the national average.

What Abbott says now: “We need to…reduce the burden of skyrocketing property taxes.” To help do that, he proposes forcing local governments to lower tax rates as property values rise.

Abbott’s record:  School property taxes are rising mainly because of rising property values. But school boards would be able to reduce property tax rates now and lower the overall property tax load if the state increased its share of school funding. Instead, Abbott and his legislative allies have consistenly under-funded public education, and school boards can’t cut tax rates. So the local share of the Foundation School Program has continued to rise during Abbott’s term as governor and is projected to hit 62 percent this year, while the state’s share drops to 38 percent, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

What Abbott says now:  We must “ensure (educators) retirements are sound and health care costs are contained.”

Abbott’s record:  Texas’ rate of contribution to TRS pensions is one of the lowest in the country. And Abbott and his allies have repeatedly ignored educators’ pleas to increase the state’s contribution to health care premiums for school employees.

“The state must increase its responsibility for education funding,” Abbott writes in his oped.

That has been obvious throughout the governor’s entire term, but he has never proposed a concrete way to do that and instead has always supported restrictions on state spending.

Has Abbott experienced a pre-election conversion?

No. But he is trying to get your vote, and if you believe him now, I suspect you also believe in fairy tales.

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.

 

 

Teachers deserve real appreciation — now, next week and beyond

 

Next week is Teacher Appreciation Week, a reminder of the important work that teachers do every day, work that is vital to their students, to their communities and to everyone’s future.

Teachers will appreciate the special works of art, the gift cards, the lunches and the heart-felt words of appreciation they will receive from their students, parents and principals.

But Texas teachers deserve more. They also deserve appreciation from their governor and legislators, and I am not talking about the hollow, suitable-for-framing proclamations that amount to little more than a pat on the head.

I am talking about real appreciation.

Real appreciation, as in a meaningful pay raise that will make up much of the $7,300 deficit below the national average.

Real appreciation, as in more state funding for their classrooms and students, who now lag $2,300 below the national average in financial resources.

Real appreciation, as in less standardized testing for their students and more time for teachers to do what they do best – teach.

Real appreciation, as in less intrusion from self-styled education “reformers” and more input from the real experts, the teachers, in the setting of education policy.

Every week needs to be Teacher Appreciation Week, at the statehouse as well as the schoolhouse. The schoolhouse is covered, but the statehouse remains a challenge for teachers, parents and everyone else who truly values public education.

I hope Texas teachers enjoy the genuine tokens of appreciation they will receive next week from their students and parents. Then I hope they all will send a message to the statehouse on Election Day – a message that clearly spells out what real teacher appreciation means.

Vote Education First!

 

Teacher pay in Texas isn’t “average”

 

When is “average” not average? It’s when we are talking about teacher pay in Texas. That’s when “average” becomes deficient.

I have seen a couple of references lately about how Texas’ teachers are paid about “average” among the states, the comparison being based on the fact that Texas ranks 29th in average teacher salary, according to the latest survey from the National Education Association. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia pay their teachers more, and 22 states pay their teachers less.

But this ranking is not only mediocre, it also is misleading, as any Texas teacher knows.

Average teacher pay in Texas, in cold, hard numbers, is $53,167. That’s $7,316 below the national average for 2017-18, and that’s worse than mediocre. That’s shameful. And it’s going in the wrong direction.

In 2016-17, teacher pay in Texas ranked 26th, and it was $7,085 below the national average.

Among the 10 most populous states, only Florida and Georgia paid their teachers less than Texas in 2017-18, according to the NEA survey.

Average teacher pay in New York was $83,585; California, $81,126; Pennsylvania, $67,398; Illinois, $65,776; Michigan, $62,702; Ohio, $58,000; and Georgia, $56,329.

Texas teachers need and deserve a raise. But the only way you are going to get one and improve overall state funding for your schools is to show up in large numbers at the polls and vote for state candidates who will give you more than lip service. Vote Education First!

 

 

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