Month: <span>August 2018</span>

Dreaming of the governor’s six-figure teacher salary? Time to wake up.


The political fantasy season continues. Now Gov. Greg Abbott is getting some nice headlines and TV exposure by claiming to be working on a way to give some teachers six-figure salaries. If you are a teacher who believes that, then you probably will believe the kid who claims the dog ate his homework.

Unless you are a high school football coach with a very successful record, your chances as a teacher of getting a six-figure salary under this governor are nil. Your chances of getting even a decent, professional salary in the upper five figures are practically zero.

The only reason Abbott is even talking about educators and money in the same sentence is because, of course, this is an election year. For him, education is an issue with which to deceive teachers into thinking he actually gives more than a tweet about the real needs of educators and their students.

You may remember that Abbott also proposed a teacher “pay raise” before a special legislative session last summer but never came up with the money to pay for it. Speaker Joe Straus and the House came up with some money — $1.8 billion – that many districts could have used to raise teacher pay or reduce employee health insurance premiums. But Abbott and his accomplice, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, slammed the door on the extra funding in an unsuccessful effort to advance a voucher bill.

Now, here is Abbott again, claiming to be thinking about another teacher pay raise – a big one.

“We want to structure a compensation plan that will put the very best educators on a pathway to earning a six-figure salary,” he said, without suggesting a way to pay for it.

There also are other problems with the governor’s pronouncement. Rather than give all 350,000 or so Texas teachers a well-deserved pay raise, Abbott proposes to select a relative handful and force them to jump through hoops to get what they already have earned. The hoops most likely would be STAAR test scores, meaning more valuable classroom time would be wasted on teaching to the test without actually measuring real student achievement.

The governor apparently has been talking to Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who supported a similar plan in Dallas ISD when he was a board member there. Five years later, the plan is a huge failure. Less than 1 percent of Dallas ISD teachers have made the top pay tier, and there has been a huge teacher turnover. Almost half of the district’s teachers have five or fewer years of experience, and Dallas ISD is going to be unable to continue paying the higher salaries at the top if the state doesn’t increase public education funding.

Better education funding for all schools and students should be Abbott’s top educational priority, not meaningless pie-in-the-sky teasers to a handful of teachers. Annual per-student funding in Texas is $2,300 less than the national average, and teacher pay is $7,300 less than the national average. As many as half of the teachers who enter the classroom this fall will have left five years from now, and Abbott is doing nothing to address that problem.

“Being an educator is a calling; however, we want to advance that calling into a profession,” Abbott was quoted as saying.

Someone should tell the governor that being an educator already is a profession. The problem is that Abbott, Patrick and officeholders like them don’t believe that educators should be paid a professional salary. And Abbott’s alleged proposal doesn’t do that.

It is time for educators to elect new leaders, including Lupe Valdez for governor and Mike Collier for lieutenant governor. Vote Education First!




Does Dan Patrick care about educators or retirees? Not really


A good rule to remember whenever Dan Patrick opens his mouth, especially about public education, is not to believe him. And if a few months before Election Day he issues a public letter in which he purports to care about the health care costs of retired educators, watch out.

The letter, which Patrick wrote this week, was an alleged plea to the Teacher Retirement System Board of Trustees not to raise health insurance premiums by $50 a month for retired teachers younger than 65 who are not on Medicare.

The board will consider that issue at its September meeting.

TSTA certainly isn’t advocating for a healthcare increase for any retirees, but we question Patrick’s motive and whether he really cares. TRS explained that lawmakers were told during last summer’s special session that a premium increase would be necessary unless the state appropriated an additional $410 million to keep the program solvent. So, why didn’t Patrick act then? As leader of the Senate, why didn’t he insist then that the Legislature appropriate enough money for TRS to make a premium increase unnecessary?

Now, he claims the Legislature can find the money next year. Just trust me, he says. If you are a retired educator, an active educator, or a student’s parent, it is never a good idea to trust Dan Patrick.

Consider his record.

Patrick was nowhere to be found last spring when the TRS board raised health insurance premiums for active educators by as much as 9.5 percent, depending on their plan. And as Senate leader for the past four years, he has ignored educators’ pleas to raise the state contribution to their premiums above the $75 a month that the state hasn’t changed since 2002.

Also remember that Patrick slammed the door on a $1.8 billion increase in public education funding during the special session. And as a state senator in 2011 he voted to cut $5.4 billion from the public education budget.

He also played a major role in concocting that phony A-F school “accountability” grading system that debuted this week, and as long as he is in office he will continue to promote private school vouchers.

Patrick’s only interest in public schools is to declare them “failures” and then privatize them. In his view, educators and retired educators are collateral damage. He still wants their votes but hasn’t earned them.

If you want a lieutenant governor who will really advocate for public schools, students, educators and retirees, vote for Mike Collier, the TSTA-endorsed candidate. Vote Education First!





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.