Public Ed, Teacher Retirement, and the Budget

This week, I delivered the following testimony to the House Appropriations Committee regarding public education & Texas’ teacher retirement system:
Last session, $5.3 billion was cut from public education – $4 billion from formula funding and $1.3 billion from educational grant programs. We were told these cuts were necessary because the state didn’t have the revenue needed to cover its obligations. Now that tax collections are estimated to be $8.8 billion over projections for last biennium, many are asking if these cuts were necessary at all.
In the real terms, these cuts translate to 25,000 fewer teachers and staff in our classrooms, three times as many over-crowded classrooms then the year before, and six lawsuits filed against the state by parents, districts and education advocates.
Earlier this month Judge Dietz ruled that our public school finance system is inadequate to meet our educational standards.
There is no reason to make the five million school children of Texas sit in underfunded and overcrowded classrooms while the state appeals this decision when the Legislature can take action today.
As a first step, we recommend that the Regular Program Adjustment Factor be set to 100% and that the legislative intent of SB 1 passed in the special session is followed by increasing the Basic Allotment while phasing out target revenue.
Part of fully funding public education is making sure TRS is able to provide an adequate retirement income for the many professionals who dedicated their careers to educating our children.
TRS is more than just retirement income for teachers. As a Defined-Benefit pension plan, TRS retirement benefits are:

  • an effective tool for the recruitment and retention of a quality workforce;
  • they strengthen the middle class by supporting self-sufficiency among our seniors;
  • and provide economic benefits for all of Texas.

The TRS defined-benefit plan is especially important for the public school teachers of our state because 95 percent do not participate in Social Security. Also, teachers have not seen a cost of living increase in over 10 years, resulting in an erosion of their purchasing power.
TRS has weathered the economic downturn better than systems in other states and has seen its investment returns rebound in recent years while maintaining a funding ratio above 80 percent.
In order to improve the strength and stability of the fund over the long run, we encourage this committee to adopt the state contribution rate increase requested by TRS.

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