FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 25, 2023
Retirees expressed gratitude for the Legislature’s current proposals but emphasized they aren’t nearly enough to keep their colleagues fed, housed, and healthy.
Texas AFT Secretary-Treasurer Ray McMurrey speaks at a press conference Monday morning with retired educators, as well as Rep. John Bryant and Rep. Mihaela Plesa.
AUSTIN, Texas — With a surplus that is itself larger than the entire budgets of 24 states, the state of Texas is poised to pass a meager raise to retired educators’ pensions that, at its most robust, would fail to match the cost of inflation for just the past two years, let alone the past two decades.
Retired educators with the Texas American Federation of Teachers’ Retiree Plus chapter were at the Capitol on Monday to explain just how devastating lawmakers’ proposals would be.
“Think about people when you look at those percentages,” said Lydia Carillo-Valdez, a retired teacher from San Antonio, before relaying just some of the stories she’s heard from her peers.
There was the 72-year-old retired Texas educator who walks to her job at a local deli each day — with a cane in each hand — because she cannot afford the gas.
Another retiree, Carillo-Valdez noted, went eight months without a water heater, even in the dead of winter. Her story mirrors that of a couple, both retired from teaching, who choose every summer between turning on a light or using their air-conditioning to keep their utilities bill under control.
Texas educators who have retired since September 2004 have never received a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their pensions. They are still living on the same monthly check they did when they first left the classroom, even though a dollar today is worth less than two-thirds of what it was worth in 2004.
Multiple COLA bills were filed in the 88th Legislature, and both chambers have given some version of a COLA their blessing. The Senate has approved Senate Bill 10, and the House could take up its version of that bill as early as this week.
But the overwhelming message from retired educators on Monday? Neither is enough.
“I retired 10 years ago,” said Phyllis Ruffin, a former paraprofessional from the Houston area. “The Consumer Price [Index] has increased by about 30%. Under the proposed [COLA] plan, I would get a 4% adjustment.”
Under SB 10, educators who retired from 2013 through 2021 would receive a 2% increase to their pensions despite enduring price increases of more than 8%. Those who retired before 2013 would receive a 4% bump, despite inflation of more than 29% since they left the classroom.
“Until we get this right on teacher retirement, we’re going to have a hard time drawing people into this great profession,” said Rep. John Bryant (D-Dallas). “We hear so much about the ‘great state of Texas.’ A state is only as great as its willingness to meet its moral responsibility to those who made us great.”
In his remarks at the morning press conference, Bryant noted that Texas has the lowest contribution rate to its teacher retirement system in the country, despite having the world’s ninth-largest economy.
A retired educator in Texas lives on an average monthly pension of $2,147. Most have little to no Social Security benefits, either. According to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, roughly 96% of Texas school employees do not pay into Social Security.
Calling the current proposals “well-intentioned” but inadequate, Rep. Mihaela Plesa (D-Dallas), urged educators to call their representatives and, in turn, urge them to do more on a real COLA this session.
Heeding that call, retired educators from Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley, and San Antonio met with both representatives and senators in their offices Monday.
They plan to keep “advocating for what’s rightfully theirs,” as Rep. Josey Garcia (D-San Antonio) noted Monday, through the end of this session.
The Texas American Federation of Teachers represents 66,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO.