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Texas House advances bill that would give retired teachers a pension raise

By Brian Lopez, The Texas Tribune

Texas House advances bill that would give retired teachers a pension raise” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The Texas House on Friday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would give retired teachers a small bump in their monthly retirement checks. For some, this could be their first cost-of-living adjustment in almost 20 years.

The House passed an amended version of Senate Bill 10, authored by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. The lower chamber’s version of the bill seeks to give a 6% increase to retirees’ monthly checks if they retired before 2004, a 4% increase if they retired between 2004 and 2014, and a 2% increase if they retired between 2015 and 2021.

The bill calls for a $5,000 one-time payment to retirees age 70 or older and stipulates that annual cost-of-living increases should not exceed 2%, depending on whether the Teacher Retirement System met or surpassed its projected investment gains. It would also raise the portion of active teachers’ salaries that goes into the teachers’ retirement fund from 8% to 9%. The state would contribute a matching amount to the fund.

The bill will need one more vote in the House before lawmakers from both chambers gather to negotiate a final version of the proposal.

But the bill includes one caveat: to fund the cost-of-living increases, Texas voters would first need to approve an amendment to the Texas Constitution that allows the state to move $1.9 billion from the general funds to the Teacher Retirement System. The measure would be placed on the ballot Nov. 7.

The main differences between the two chambers’ versions of the bill is that the Senate wants a $7,500 one-time payment for retirees age 75 and older, a 4% increase to their checks if they’ve been retired for more than 10 years and a 2% increase if they retired between late 2013 and before the end of 2021.

State Rep. John Bryant, D-Dallas, tried to amend the House’s version of the bill to increase cost-of-living payments, but failed.

“These people teach our children; they taught us,” Bryant said. “We have a moral obligation to them.”

The last time lawmakers gave retired teachers a cost-of-living increase was in 2013, and it only applied to those who retired before August 2004. Teachers who retired after that have never received a raise and have been living on about $1,800 a month from their retirement checks. Over the last two legislative sessions, lawmakers gave retired teachers a one-time payment, commonly referred to as the “13th check.”

The Teacher Retirement System provides monthly payments to more than 475,000 retired Texas teachers.

A report from the Texas American Federation of Teachers, a teacher union, found that the average monthly payment that the state’s retired teachers receive is about $2,174. For those who would qualify for the 6% increase, their checks would go up to about $2,300 a month.

Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said SB 10 will do a whole lot for retirees. But Nicole Hill, communications director for the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said seeing SB 10 advance in the Texas Legislature was bittersweet.

“Good news is we saw movement, and we haven’t seen that in years,” she said. “But it just doesn’t go far enough. This is essentially crumbs.”

Disclosure: Association of Texas Professional Educators has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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