TCTA presses lawmakers to invest in teachers, schools amid… | TCTA
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TCTA presses lawmakers to invest in teachers, schools amid budget surplus

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With the 88th Texas Legislature set to convene in just three months, TCTA has been urging budget writers to significantly increase state funding for both active teacher health care and a mandatory teacher pay raise in the next two-year state budget.

In addition, TCTA recommended the state increase the school safety allotment — currently $9.72 per student — and expand its possible uses to provide funding for campus behavioral specialists that can assist classroom teachers.

Lawmakers will have an enormous budget windfall next year as Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has projected the state will have $27 billion extra when the current budget ends in August 2023, in addition to almost $14 billion set aside in the state’s rainy day fund.

Gov. Greg Abbott has said he wants to use half of the $27 billion surplus to reduce school property taxes, which would benefit taxpayers but not schools. TCTA maintains the state needs to provide school districts additional resources by raising the basic allotment (last updated in 2019), committing state funding to an across-the-board teacher pay raise and fixing some longstanding challenges that affect both active teachers and retirees.

State agencies submitted their legislative appropriations requests over the summer, and TCTA provided testimony at recent hearings on the budget requests of both the Texas Education Agency and the Teacher Retirement System.

More funding to pay teachers

The Texas Education Agency noted in its request that a recent increase in school funding through HB 3 in 2019 “represents an investment first and foremost in teachers, where school systems spend the bulk of their funds.” But TCTA provided an analysis to the Legislative Budget Board showing that teachers have not been taking home their fair share of that investment.

The analysis shows that teacher pay has not kept pace with overall increases in school funding. In 2001, teacher salaries accounted for 43.8% of school districts’ per-pupil operating expenditures. Two decades later, that figure has dropped to 38.1%.

If teacher pay had remained in line with increases in school expenditures over that same period, the average teacher salary would have been 15% higher in 2021 — lifting the average teacher salary of $57,641 by an additional $8,660.

Health care costs

(Click here to view the request from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.) TCTA is also pressing lawmakers for a more permanent solution to rising health care costs by considerably increasing the $75 per month state health insurance contribution and indexing it to inflation in future years. An infusion of more than $683 million in federal COVID relief funds kept premiums flat this year but TRS has indicated that ActiveCare premiums could increase “significantly” without additional action by the Legislature.

“This is of great concern to teachers across the state who are already overwhelmed with health care costs and the ability to keep pace with the cost of living,” according to the TCTA testimony.

COLA for retirees

For retired teachers, TCTA is encouraging lawmakers to balance the responsibility to ensure the pension fund remains actuarially sound with the need to increase pension benefits by providing a meaningful cost-of-living adjustment.

“While the costs of providing benefit increases must be taken into consideration, the purpose of the retirement fund is not simply to grow, but to provide retirement security for Texas’ retired school employees,” TCTA stated in testimony. TCTA is advocating for a series of benefit increases to catch retirees up with the rising costs of living over the past several years.