Retired Texas teachers are closer to seeing some relief from higher health care deductibles, and current teachers may be seeing more money in the near future, too. But some teacher groups are worried the push to help teachers is more political than substantive.
The Texas Senate took steps early Wednesday to bridge the gap in health care funding for the Teacher Retirement System. Senators also approved a one-time bonus for current teachers, with the amount varying depending on years of service.
“Teachers absolutely deserve a bonus, whether it’s a one-time bonus or an ongoing bonus, we will take either one," said Monty Exter, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “And the TRS-Care money is certainly appreciated. Those folks are hurting after this last session and so any sort of relief we can give to them is a plus.”
“The retirees’ health care plan is in bad shape," Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, said. "It’s in danger of collapse. And the Legislature passed a bill in the regular session that basically just significantly raises deductibles for people on fixed incomes, raises premiums that many of them just cannot afford.”
But help could be on the way for those retirees who are too young to qualify for Medicare, if a bill authored by Republican Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound makes it through the House.
“We will be reducing the premiums for individuals," Nelson said. "We’re cutting them in half, from $3,000 to $1,500, and those with families from $6,000 to $3,000.”
The bill would include retired teachers with disabled adult children, and it also includes an interesting way to pay for the cash infusion into TRS.
“My intention would be to defer the payment for actually two weeks, from the last two weeks of the ’18-’19 biennium, which would be August of 2019, right, to the first month of the ’20-’21 biennium," Nelson said.
Robison called that an accounting trick.
“[It's] a form of hocus-pocus to delay some Medicaid payments to an already-underfunded health care system for low-income Texans to allegedly prop up a health care plan for education retirees," he said. "Education retirees deserve more. They deserve a solution.”
The gamble by Nelson and the other senators who passed the bill is that by the time the next Legislature rolls around, there will be more revenue, mainly from oil tax revenue, to cover that Medicaid cost.
The bill originally included a pay raise for teachers – a priority for the governor and lieutenant governor during the special session. The raise was scrapped in the Senate because of language that would have forced individual districts to pay for the raises. That left some to wonder if they were just there for political reasons.
“The same set of senators failed to even hold a committee hearing on teacher compensation bill during the regular session," Exter said.
A pay hike for teachers is not dead yet, though. House Bill 24 proposes using the rainy day fund to pay for raises. If that bill passes the House, it would need to be reconciled with the Senate’s version.