TRS-Care Relief for Retirees, Potential TRS Pension Cost-of-Living Increase on Tap

The Texas House on Tuesday will vote on two bills to give retired school employees a better deal. HB 20 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) would use $212 million from the Rainy Day Fund to reduce health-care cost increases facing retirees starting in January under the TRS-Care health plan. TRS-Care participants under age 65 would have a deductible of $1,500 in their plan rather than $3,000. Retirees 65 and over would see a $25 monthly reduction in projected premiums under their separate plan (a Medicare Advantage offering). Retirees with adult disabled children covered by TRS-Care also would see lower cost increases if HB 20 becomes law.

HB 80 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), also coming to a House vote Tuesday, would set up the mechanism for a potential cost-of-living adjustment of 3 percent for those who took their TRS retirement from 2005 through 2015. The TRS pension fund would have to make significant new investment gains to turn this potential into reality. We are hearing that there may be a useful amendment to allow TRS trustees to trigger the COLA as soon as the pension fund reaches the required benchmark of actuarial soundness, without having to wait for further legislative action.

At the same time, an important school-funding bill, HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) is waiting in the wings. The bill would boost state school aid to an average of $5,350 per pupil, up $210 from the current $5,140. Besides this boost for personnel and programs, HB 21 augments funding for bilingual education and for students with dyslexia, among other welcome features.

Just this evening the bill was briefly returned to the House Public Education Committee in order to remove one section that had proven deservedly unpopular. That provision, now stripped from the bill, would have provided charter schools with unprecedented access to state facilities funding without first assuring adequate funding for school districts. With that provision gone, the bill now is essentially the same as the version that passed by an overwhelming margin in the House in the regular session.

Tomorrow (August 1) there will be committee action on other education issues in the House. The House Public Education Committee will hear 23 bills, including HB 198 by Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), which would create a form of performance pay sought by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and Gov. Greg Abbott for educators rated most effective at achieving student “growth.” Also on the agenda is a voucher bill targeting students with disabilities, HB 253 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton), which is the House companion to the Senate voucher bill, SB 2. The legislation closely resembles measures rejected by a wide margin in the House this spring.

On a positive note, the hearing agenda also includes a bill to provide reimbursement for the purchase of classroom supplies out of personal funds by teachers in grade six and below. The bill is HB 54 by Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston. It would reimburse these teachers up to $600 a year for such purchases.