The House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on Article III met for around six hours Monday to review and discuss the budgets for several education-related entities, including TEA (whose budget includes school funding) and the Teacher Retirement System. The meeting included briefings from budget experts and agency heads (including Education Commissioner Mike Morath and TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie) as well as public testimony from TCTA and other interested parties.
TCTA provided feedback similar to that given previously to the Senate Finance Committee in support of a significant increase in educator salaries; increased contributions toward school employee health insurance; funding for additional employees to help teachers address student discipline, mental health and safety issues; and a series of cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.
Commissioner Morath faced some questioning from committee members who wanted him to specify the amount of a teacher pay raise that the legislature should adopt. The current version of the budget includes a rider that expresses intent to include provisions for funding increases for districts and higher pay for teachers, but does not include any specifics. Morath would not commit to a number, and noted that he had never been a fan of across-the-board pay raises. The commissioner has consistently touted the Teacher Incentive Allotment as a preferred method of increasing pay for “high performing” teachers.
Guthrie discussed the fiscal health of the TRS pension fund, which — thanks to significant investment growth in 2021 and increased contributions from the state, districts and employees — is within the range that would allow the fund to provide a benefit increase for retirees (which requires legislative authorization). The TRS budget includes a rider similar to the TEA rider noted above, stating that it is the legislature’s intent to provide a benefit enhancement if the system is actuarially sound – but currently without details.
State leaders have discussed a small cost-of-living adjustment, a thirteenth check (one-time bonus) or a combination of the two. TRS staff informed the committee that the price of a cost-of-living adjustment is roughly $1 billion for each 1% (e.g., a 2% increase would cost the state around $2 billion). A 13th check structured similarly to the 2021 check (capped at $2,400) would cost around $800 million.
TCTA continues to promote a series of cost-of-living adjustments that would raise benefits in line with inflation growth since the last benefit increase. This was done successfully over a four-session period in the 1990s.