June 19, 2022: Survey–77% oppose arming teachers; House committee hearing on TRS COLA; Take the KXAN safety/gun survey
Publish Date: June 11, 2022 12:30 pm Author: Texas AFT
Our survey shows school employees overwhelmingly (77%) do not want to be armed
Educators instead support legislation on gun access
Our survey of Texas school employees released Wednesday shows that 77% of respondents do not want to be armed to confront a shooter in their schools.
The Texas AFT survey of 5,100 Texas K-12 school employees, higher-ed employees, parents, and community leaders was conducted in the week after the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. The results were released Wednesday at a virtual news conference.
“Trying to arm teachers is risky and counterproductive,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “Teachers can’t be expected to become highly-trained law enforcement officers and use guns in a crisis without endangering students or themselves.”
The survey also revealed that 90% of Texas school employees have worried about a shooting happening at their school, and 42% said the Uvalde shooting may affect their decision to return to school.
When asked what measures school employees would support to stop gun violence, respondents overwhelmingly supported legislation focusing on access to guns, including:
99%—supporting comprehensive background checks required for purchases from all gun sellers.
98%—supporting “red flag warnings” that can stop people going through extreme emotional or mental health issues from buying or using guns.
96%—supporting raising the minimum age for all legal gun purchases to 21.
83%—supporting a ban on assault weapons.
82%—supporting more rigorous secure storage laws so our kids can’t access guns at their homes or friends’ homes.
Only 3% did not want any of these measures.
“The Uvalde shooting has added another layer—outright fear—to the reasons why teachers are questioning their profession,” Capo said. “They know that they would put themselves in the line of fire to save their students, and they also know that more guns inside schools are not the answer.”
News team launches survey on school safety—take a couple of minutes to weigh in!
KXAN News is working on a big project exploring several issues related to school safety and mass violence in the wake of the tragedy in Uvalde. The news team wants input from educators and administrators inside Texas schools—to hear what they feel is and is not working to keep students and staff safe.
Note that Texas AFT’s survey focused primarily on legislation addressing gun access and opinions on arming teachers. The KXAN survey will address arming staff as well as questions about training and facilities. Texas AFT will be working with KXAN to comment on the findings.
This survey is a part of a larger project that will be presented to lawmakers before they enter special committees this summer. The survey is anonymous, and your information will not be shared with anyone.
House committee hears retirees call for a COLA as TRS investment returns soar
On Monday, Texas AFT Staff Researcher Eli Melendrez and Texas AFT Retiree Plus member Lydia Carrillo-Valdez testified in front of the Texas House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) Committee in favor of a significant cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for TRS retirees.
Melendrez testified that due to high inflation over the past several years, the purchasing power of the average TRS monthly annuity payment has dipped to shockingly low levels compared to previous years. Melendrez also presented the committee with a chart showing where the average TRS annuity would have been had the legislature linked a COLA to inflation.
Carillo-Valdez shared personal and emotional stories of the conditions she and her fellow retirees are facing and explained that the stagnation of TRS benefits is making teaching a less enticing career choice. Melendrez also asked the committee to attempt making a monthly budget based on the average TRS monthly annuity of $2,145.
The PIFS committee reacted positively to the public testimony and promised to take action in the coming legislative session. The PIFS members passed a bill out of committee in 2021 that would have provided teachers a mere 6% COLA, capped at $100 per month. A majority of the House signed on to the bill, but it died due to inaction by the House Calendars Committee.
The PIFS Committee also looked at two interim charges related to the TRS that included testimony. HB 1585 provides annuity recipients advanced warning before their monthly annuity is paused due to returning to work at a TRS-Covered employer. SB 1444 locks employers into either participating in TRS ActiveCare or opting out for a five-year period. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie testified that both bills had been implemented smoothly and that SB 1444 has provided more long-term stability for TRS ActiveCare. Public testimony regarding HB 1585 called for further changes to make it easier for TRS retirees to return to work.
Regarding the fund’s actuarial soundness, Guthrie told lawmakers that, within the past 10 years, the fund had its highest return on investment at 24.98% last year. Despite this exceptionally high rate of return, TRS anticipates some fiscal insecurity for the fund in the coming months due to market volatility. Guthrie explained that TRS will soon be voting to lower its investment return assumption (IRA) from 7.25% to 7%. TRS uses the IRA to set budgetary limits for future years in which the fund’s return on investment is unknown. Over the past ten years, TRS has had a 9.8% average rate of return on investment. A lower, more conservative IRA is intended to protect the long-term health of the TRS pension fund.
Socorro union scores big victory with over $1 million in back pay to school employees robbed of leave days
Socorro AFT’s efforts to right a wrong over Covid-19 leave paid off big Monday night when the Socorro ISD School Board voted to return leave days and docked pay to employees from an unfair policy over Covid-19 testing.
The dispute started when the district forced employees to get a PCR test if they had been exposed to the virus or had shown symptoms. While the mandated test was good policy, the results for some employees were not. Because of testing backlogs, employees sometimes waited up to five days or more for results and approval from the district to return to work. If test results were negative, the employees were still required to use personal leave days to cover that time off waiting. Some employees with no leave left were docked significant amounts of pay—in some cases up to thousands of dollars.
Socorro AFT’s position was that the district should provide the required leave. After trying to work with the district to resolve the issue, the union filed an associational grievance. The School Board ended up restituting employees without having to hear the grievance.
“Our teachers and staff endured some of the most challenging times this year,” said Veronica Hernandez, Socorro AFT President. “We are especially excited that our employees will now be able to regain their lost personal days or docked days after simply following SISD administrative directives.”
In a letter to Morath, the governor said the chief “should enhance all agency services by increasing communication and collaboration among the professionals at TEA, the Texas School Safety Center, the Department of Public Safety, the Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, the Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, the Advance Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, school districts, and others. The Chief must ensure that Texas schools are implementing the school safety policies passed by the legislature and take every action possible to ensure that schools are using best practices to safeguard against school shootings or other dangers.”
“Better communication and coordination can be a positive step forward,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “The governor, however, is doing everything he can think of for safety while avoiding the foundation for what’s needed: sensible legislation on gun access and use.”
State Board of Education meets next week to consider charter applicants
The State Board of Education will meet in Austin next week beginning on Tuesday to consider the possible approval of five new charter operators and the new proposed educator certification exam— edTPA—developed by Pearson.
Texas AFT, along with other allied organizations, will be providing testimony against both of these measures. Stay tuned for a full recap.
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