Survey of Texas school employees reveals sobering facts

Minimal state contribution rates and rising health-care costs leave many with lower pay each year, and without resources to seek medical treatments

A survey released today shows many Texas teachers and other school employees are making less money each year because their school district health-care premiums are eating away any raises they receive. Facing the rising costs of health insurance, many teachers are considering other professions, according to comments from teachers and superintendents. (The Texas AFT online survey, with 1,885 school employees and 212 superintendents responding, was conducted from early March to mid-April.)

“The statistics on rising health-care premium costs in our survey were no surprise, but the stories school employees shared were poignant and often disturbing,” said Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro. “This survey points to a critical need for

Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro with State Sen. Jose José Rodríguez and State Rep.César Blanco

Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro with State Sen. Jose José Rodríguez and State Rep.César Blanco

the state Legislature to address the stagnant funding for health-care, since the state’s contribution to employee premiums hasn’t increased since it began contributing in 2002.”

Respondents’ comments reveal that many teachers are not even scheduling doctor’s appointments or necessary medical treatments because the costs are too prohibitive.

One survey respondent noted: “Last year I delayed seeking care for a respiratory infection due to the high out-of-pocket costs. When I became so ill I had to see the doctor, I was sent for surgery to remove a bronchial obstruction. Had I not been so worried about the cost, I would have sought treatment sooner and avoided surgery.”

HealthCareChartTexas passed a law in 2001 requiring school districts to maintain or increase their level of local funding for health-care coverage for their employees while also adding state funding specifically earmarked for health insurance for the first time.

The state also created a statewide insurance plan called TRS-ActiveCare. Currently districts employing about half of all public school employees participate in ActiveCare, while the rest are covered by local plans sponsored through their school districts. The law initially provided for a state contribution of $75 per month and required a minimum school district contribution of $150 monthly for all school employees in ActiveCare and on local health plans.

At the time the law was passed, this combined minimum of $225 from the state and from each district covered roughly two-thirds of the cost of employee-only health insurance on the TRS-ActiveCare 2 plan. Today the proportions are nearly reversed, with school employees themselves shouldering about 60 percent of the costs of their own health insurance premiums, and those covering dependents are spending much more. At the same time, health benefits have been reduced, so employees are paying more and receiving less for it, whether on the state or local plans.

The survey shows 94 percent of the respondents faced rising health insurance costs in the last several years, and 62 percent reported decreased benefits. While some school districts provide additional assistance to cover employee premiums at rates above the minimum required, nearly half of employees reported small or no pay increases due in part to rising health-care costs.

Notes one respondent: “Any raises have come with higher health costs. When we hear there will be a pay raise, we joke that it must be time for the insurance to go up again. In ten years my take-home pay has risen only $200 per month—all my raises go to rising health insurance costs.”

Respondents who are covering dependent family members reported spending a minimum of $500 per month for coverage with many paying closer to $1,000. Reports in the survey of dropped coverage for children and spouses due to high costs were common.

“If we’re serious about attracting new, quality teachers to the profession, then we need to get serious about ensuring they aren’t getting pay cuts each year to an already modest salary,” Malfaro said. “Texas AFT is determined to achieve affordable health care for all education employees and retirees. Our ultimate goal is fully paid coverage for every employee and 50 percent for their families—health coverage as good as the governor’s plan.”

Malfaro noted that companion bills pending in the House and Senate (HB 1597 by Rep. Cesar Blanco, SB 659 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez) would double the monthly state contribution rate for health care to $150 per employee.

 Texas AFT represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.

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Comments

  1. Tabatha Morris says

    This is absolutely true! As an educator and mom with five children, I live in fear of them getting sick because I cannot afford the premiums of TRS Active Care. I personally have not been to a doctor in several years simply because of the cost! Daily I think about changing professions because of the low pay and terrible benefits.

  2. Anna Shelton says

    While the article is very true. I don’t know any teachers that would consider our salary “modest,” especially when you take into consideration the hours, healthcare costs, and stress involved in teaching. I personally am a single mother trying to support my family. It’s disheartening the lack of respect, support, and compensation provided for what should be the most important profession.

  3. says

    The information above is the general consensus in my district. The healthcare package offered by the state is not suficient to cover needs- my plan doesnt even cover office visits. It looks like with as many teachers as there are in the state our group could negotiate better policies. My husband, who is a fireman, changed to Aetna about the same time we at school did and thier policies are much more comprehensive- and they have coach clinic to use as well. Texas does a poor job taking care of its education state employees

  4. says

    I have been a teacher for 52 years, and I still enjoy my profession. However, I have not received a raise in the last 20 years. What other profession would continue in their same profession?. Teaching is a calling, and I am blessed to be one. I am ashamed that our legislators treat our profession with such disrespect.
    I arrive at school before 7 and it is often after five when I leave. I also spend time on the weekend working at school. I realize this is by choice, but it is not a 7::30 to 4 profession. Many hours are spent going to my students’ activities because I want them to know that I care about their life outside of school.. Blessed to be called to be a teacher.
    Mary Whittlesey

  5. Mari McAdoo says

    It is time for the state and districts to show more appreciation for our teachers and budget more and more money each year for our insurance. It’s impossible to have a productive staff that will help children if they are sick or fear they cannot afford to seek medical attention!

    I’m retired from teaching after 34 years and feel the same about my retirement TRS care………feel very sad that our state and our districts don’t show more appreciation for all of the work we’ve done – teaching is a job that requires a person to give SO much of themselves, physically, mentally – it is not just an 8 – 5 job……..it consumes your life. Teachers deserve SO much more for salary, for health care, for acknowledgement, for their schools to be up to code and beyond.

    If more money were put into EDUCATION we might have less money spent on PRISONS. – but as it stands now – it’s the opposite.

    I will always vote for a candidate that puts education first.

  6. Gwen Chapman says

    I worked as a paraprofessional for 15 years in public school, my husband passed away and I went to work for Windham school in the Prison system. During my time there I decided to go back to school for my teaching certification. It took me 4 yrs, working full time and having to quit to do my student teaching after the eight years. I did not receive financial help, I borrowed money to be able to better myself. The difference in the prison school and public schools is the great benefits. In the prison school you do not pay a penny for insurance, there are no report cards, no parent conferences, and when they retire, they still have their insurance. I find it so sad that teaching in public schools is not a reward, but a constant wondering am I going to be able to pay my bills if I do have to go to a doctor. The reward I do receive is the smile, hug and the I love you from my 7 year olds. I do believe teachers need to stand together and work to get these things corrected. Thanks to the organizations that do stand behind us!

  7. Lee Ann Humphries says

    So, you people that run the world are just figuring this out?? Yes, teachers/coaches spend many long hours at school activities(no overtime pay) get paid less than most folks, and the insurance is outrageous for “not so great coverage”. But, most put up with things because, they love to teach and they love children. But, it still doesn’t make it right. Lots of kids entering college do not go into teaching for these very reasons. That’s pretty sad that the world will not know many good teachers that might have been.

  8. says

    I am single mother of two girls. I recently had my 2nd daughter. I was away for maternity leave and have had to purchase the lowest health insurance my school district offers. Due to the poor coverage I am now in debt in medical bills for $8,000 and have to get a second job to support my family. I love teaching but I love my family more. I am currently looking for another job to support my family.

  9. M. Adams says

    I have been a public school teacher for 23 years. I have a family of 4. My husband has been unemployed for 1 1/2 years. I have to insure my family, so this year we went with the high deductible insurance through TRS because in we are not sick very often, and were paying $1,000 a month to cover the 4 of us and then still having to pay a co-pay and labs if we went to the doctor. Now, my husband went to the in network Dr and it took all that we put into the health care savings account on his first visit just to get a medically necessary prescription approved for refill.

    When he worked for a State University, he was considered a “State Employee” and his insurance for our family was just $75 a month….why can’s public school teacher be treated that well?

  10. says

    Texas AFT – A UNION of Professionals
    OK
    Texas is a non – Union state
    Let’s invent another genre for an organization who wants to voice a united voice about education. If we don’t takes steps to become one voice, we can complain and lay down because “it’s out of our control”

    Come on people!

    AFT
    SHOW REAL LEADERSHIP

  11. Christina says

    After many years in the business world, I am now a first-year employee in a public school system. I love my work, but the unexpected high cost health of insurance for me and my child are is a bitter pill to swallow. I already took a cut in pay, and now we are not getting raises this year. 🙁
    I feel that I bring a lot to the table in terms of skills and experience, but I may be forced back into the business world just to be able to cover health expenses and lay my bills.

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