For school teachers and especially for education retirees, legislative talk can be cheap, very cheap. And with every “teacher appreciation” resolution in the House or the Senate and every “fond” memory a lawmaker shares about a “favorite” teacher, the legislative debt to educators just grows deeper.
The fact that most active teachers in Texas are woefully underpaid is bad enough, but the plight of thousands of school retirees is even worse. For some, it will become downright treacherous and life-threatening if the Legislature doesn’t do something this session to save their health care coverage without bankrupting the retirees.
As the Houston Chronicle pointed out in an editorial, linked below, the school retirees’ health care plan, TRS-Care, “is going to fail without legislative action” and the “impact on retired educators will be severe.” So far, there is no real legislative fix in sight this session, and the clock is ticking.
In the Senate, Sen . Joan Huffman of Houston is sponsoring SB788, which supposedly would address the problem, but not really. This is the same Sen. Huffman who also is sponsoring SB13, a separate bill aimed at crippling teacher and other public employee advocacy organizations.
Huffman’s SB788, the TRS-Care bill, is what the Chronicle editorial calls “a disingenuous half measure that will barely keep the plan alive while devastating the financial condition of some retired teachers, or worse, leaving many without any health care at all.”
Huffman’s bill would increase state funding by about $300 million, far short of the $1 billion shortfall that TRS-Care is facing. Under her plan, the deductible for an individual retiree would jump from about $400 to $4,000. Keep in mind the average retired teacher receives only about $2,035 a month in retirement benefits. Most retired teachers don’t receive Social Security, and many aren’t old enough to get Medicare.
SB788 is not a fix for what is rapidly becoming a crisis.
Texas’ 262,000 retired teachers spent much of their adult lives securing Texas’ future with barely adequate – or worse – pay. They are entitled to a secure health care system, and there is more than enough money – about $12 billion– in the state’s Rainy Day Fund to keep TRS-Care solvent and increase funding for public schools. Both are critical issues the Legislature has persisted in putting off.
Many of us have stories to tell about favorite teachers, and legislators are no exception. But unlike most of us, legislators are in a position to provide a secure retirement for educators. Fond memories and congratulatory resolutions don’t pay medical bills.