Lawmakers ask for STAAR opt-out mechanism, budget writers get to work, and a state senator belittles our pensions

Texas Capitol Extension

This week, state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and 67 of his House colleagues, including House Public Education Committee chair, Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr, signed a letter to Education Commissioner Mike Morath to “request the Texas Education Agency create a formal mechanism for students and families to opt-out of the 2020-2021 administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams.” The request adds to a chorus of legislators objecting to the STAAR test ,  echoed by a Tuesday op-ed from Texas AFT President Zeph Capo in the San Antonio Express-News.    

Bernal and his colleagues write, “Requiring that all students be in-person for the administration of exams creates an untenable environment that puts students and school personnel at immense risk of transmission. Since it is evident that the Agency has no plans to seek the federal waivers necessary to cancel the 2020-2021 administration of the STAAR, something we strongly believe the Agency should reconsider, at a minimum it should allow students and their families the opportunity to opt-out of the exam.”

Budget writers get rolling
The Senate Finance Committee took a detailed look at state revenue and expenditures this week, specifically funding public pensions, like the Employee Retirement System for state employees, which will need an infusion in cash to keep the fund healthy. Committee Chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) indicated ERS is a priority, and she will be looking to “fill in the details” to address the fund this session.

One committee member—Sen. Charles Schwertner—made it clear, however, that we need to be on guard against attacks on our Teacher Retirement System of Texas pensions. Speaking of public pensions, Schwertner stated: “Are we not fooling ourselves in the sense that we can never shovel enough money into the quicksand foundation of pensions to make them solid long

term?….what are we doing to future generations of Texan’s and Texas workforce by having a pension system in this financial environment?” 

Texas has neglected our public pensions for years with low contributions. Schwertner’s comments represent a line of attack over the past decades that seek to turn  defined-benefit pensions into 401(k)-style plans at the mercy of volatile markets and without guaranteed benefit payments.