Texas lawmakers need to take care of retired teachers

I am proud to call myself a retired teacher after a combined 52 years of service in Texas public and private schools. I’ve worked as a public school teacher and administrator for 35 years, 23 of those years right here at MISD. I have been fortunate to serve in the district for two decades with unprecedented accomplishments. The 1980s and 1990s are often referred to as the “golden years” for the district. I assume that we can be so successful again. As headmaster, I was happy to give credit to the class teachers who made this possible. They were on the front lines and were the ones who found a way to reach every student. I am an uncompromising teacher advocate.

Unfortunately, efforts to recruit and retain the best and brightest into the ranks of the teaching profession, both in our community and across Texas, are neutral. The reasons are varied and complex, but being able to earn a living wage for good work is a “big rock” in this challenge. Intellectually gifted students with the money and tenacity to earn a college degree have a choice. Gone are the days when young women entered the workforce to supplement their husband’s salary. This generation is competitive and wants reassurance that they will be paid fairly, both while they work and after they retire. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep that promise in Texas.

The 88thth The Texas legislature sitting now is sitting on a record surplus of $32.7 billion. With a so-called one-off price at stake, politicians are under pressure to deliver on campaign promises, tax breaks being the most common. While tax breaks are certainly important, there is a critical need that cannot continue to be ignored, and that is a significant increase in the cost of living for retired teachers in Texas.

Inflationary pressures on seniors are at an all-time high, and retired teachers in Texas have not received a cost-of-living increase since 2004. Living on a fixed income is never easy, but sitting on a fixed income topped by inflation that’s at a 40-year high is painful. Many retired teachers in Texas are now making tough choices about food and medicine, and their stories are heartbreaking.

Did you know that the average monthly TRS annuity is $2,174, which equates to $26,088 in pre-tax annual income? On the other hand, did you know that 94% of TRS retirees live in Texas and spend their money right here at home? According to the Texas Retired Teacher’s Association, every $1 paid by TRS generates $2.35 in economic activity. TRS retirees hope to receive no more than their fair share of any surplus they helped build.

Most TRS retirees do not receive Social Security and rely solely on TRS pension benefits. Even if they held side jobs and summer jobs, which many did, and made significant contributions to Social Security, potential benefits are cut under a “windfall” elimination rule, all because the state of Texas decided that public employees were exempt from Social Security take part . Retired teachers in Texas share this award with teachers in 26 other states. Specifically, Texas is the only state where inflation does not trigger an increase in the cost of living for beneficiaries. Retired teachers in Texas must rely on lawmakers to make adjustments at their discretion, and relief has been a long time coming.

According to a new study by Equable, a nonpartisan organization that oversees retirement programs across the country, “Texas ranks second to last compared to all 50 states plus Washington DC.” On the other hand, Texas is the ninth largest economy among the world nations, larger than Canada, Korea, Russia and Australia, and the US Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that Texas GDP grew a whopping 8.2% in the third quarter of 2022.

Ask yourself this question, “Why would a bright young student commit to life as a homeroom teacher in Texas, only to be left out of the Texas success story upon retirement?” Bottom line, we can and should do better, both for Texas teachers on duty as well as for those who are now retired. We need to be able to say to young people who see teaching as a life purpose, “We appreciate you. We appreciate your service. We won’t leave you behind.”


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