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September 18, 2017

Senate Panel in Texas To Approve Retirement Benefits And Bonuses For Teachers

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has listed a proposal that he feels is a top priority for the Texas education system. It is a proposal to offer pay raises and bonuses to teachers who are employed long-term. They will also be given reduced healthcare costs for the teachers who retire as well. The Texas Senate Finance committee has agreed to approve the proposal. The bill is called Senate Bill 19.

Senate Bill 19 was authored by Senator Jane Nelson of R-Flower Mound. It states a need to provide $193 million in bonuses for teachers starting in September of 2018 and add another $212 million dollars into a health insurance plan operated by the state for retired teachers. The committee voted for the proposal 10-3. It will require all school districts in the state to increase their teacher’s pay by $1,000 each starting in the beginning of 2019. All the senators who were in favor for the bill approval were Republicans. The Democratic senators opposed to the bill. State Senator Juan Hinojosa was present during the vote but decided not to participate. The full Senate will still need to consider the bill.

Many activists and educators who had testified against the part of the new bill that requires the districts to raise the teacher’s pay. This is in part because the money would not essentially come from the state. The bill itself addresses twenty priorities that Governor Greg Abbott had put on his agenda for the session held in July. Patrick had laid out the specifics of the plan during a press conference which was held earlier in that month.

Bill Referred To As A “Bridge”

Nelson had proposed that the money for the health benefits and bonuses for the teachers come from the Health and Human Services Commission. This would be done by deferring payments to each healthcare company which provides Medicaid for the state’s privatized system. Nelson called the bill a “bridge” while the legislators work hard on solving bigger issues with the school’s finance system.

Many legislators are arguing whether or not this bill will actually help teachers in the long run. With the limited flexibility in the budget that has already been approved by the governor, the need to look for creative ways in which to fund these provisions needs to come to a head soon. Teachers are in need of the raises and benefits. Many are struggling with their current pay and are sometimes forced to look for alternative ways to pay for expenses in their private lives. Some turn to things like cash advances or a title loan in San Antonio when money is tight and they need to get by until their next paycheck.

Even with the additional money that the bill is outlining, the retirement system for teachers is expected to see a shortfall of around $500-$700 million by the year 2020. This shortfall is projected to increase to over $2 billion dollars by the year 2022. School teachers and employees have had to absorb much of the healthcare premium increases over the recent years, with district and state inputs continuing to remain close to being fixed. Many are pressing the voting panel to not let their political views get in the way of the reform during the special session.

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