Noting the priorities of our state legislators, I’m ready for a regime change, because current priorities stink. Treatment of retired teachers, coupled with Texas’s low nationwide educational ranking, speaks volumes about how much our legislators care about education, child welfare and human needs.
Yet Texas is a wealthy state.
The latest outrage: The Legislature is systematically stripping retired teachers of retirement benefits. Senate bills 1750 and 1751, introduced by Republican Paul Bettencourt, will begin the process of rolling the retired teachers' pension fund, TRS, into a 401(k) arrangement. Given how little trust exists, it’s probably a shell game to raid the teachers' pension fund because taxpayer dollars have been mismanaged and mis-prioritized for decades.
Don't think for a minute that teachers are being helped.
Another bill will reduce retired teacher health care, raising premiums and deductibles. To top this, those who depend on a teacher retirement pension but who worked other jobs, paying into the Social Security system, do not receive a full pension paid like anyone else with the same amount of payments to the SSA. In Texas and a few other states, a retired teachers' Social Security benefit earned by working other jobs is offset by two-thirds because it is seen as a "windfall."
Texas retired teachers haven't seen a raise in monthly pension payments in 18 years, while inflation has decreased the spending power of their pensions by 2 percent per year. A $2,500 per month retirement in the year 2000 would be $3,500 today if the Teacher Retirement System had been allowed to give cost of living allowances. Thank you, Rick Perry.
Teachers with no Social Security benefit pay Medicare premiums out of more and more meager retirement checks. To top this off, a TRS pensioner can never claim on a spouse's Social Security, even if the spouse dies and that income source disappears. There were measures that could have been taken once upon a time to prevent all this, but the Texas Legislature, under the leadership of Perry and Greg Abbott, did not take action.
These policies scream that teachers aren't important. Teachers never unionized in Texas. Forget them. They generally don't get involved in politics. If you tick off a teacher, you aren't likely to see them at the country club and have an awkward moment. Forget them.
Meanwhile, the Texas economy is in great shape. As of 2015, Texas hosted six of the top 50 companies in the Fortune 500 list and 51 Fortune 500 companies overall. That places Texas third in the nation, after New York and California.
But Texas public education ranks 43rd. The Texas Education Agency has identified 100 under performing schools — just in San Antonio.
In 2012, Texas grossed more than $264.7 billion a year in exports — more than California ($161.9 billion) and New York ($81.4 billion). As a sovereign country, Texas would be the 12th largest economy in the world by GDP (ahead of South Korea and Australia). Yet, the educational system of South Korea is ranked No. 1 in the world, while Australia's is No. 4. The U.S. is No. 17, and Texas is toward the bottom of that.
We're close to the bottom of the heap among the 50 states in many measures of children living in poverty and abuse and of dropout rates, test performance, and college attendance. How can this be, when Texas itself has such a great economy? It’s an economy that produces a huge percentage of the country’s GDP.
Time for regime change.
If retired teachers keep having the screws put to them, many will be in welfare housing. While this vulnerable group is being betrayed, it calls to question the priorities of the Republicans in charge of Texas government. All that wealth. We should have something better to show for it in terms of human needs.
Even worse than the betrayal of teachers, there's the betrayal of children. You can tell lots about a society by the way it treats animals and children. Texas is more like a Third World country in terms of making children a priority. Sure, the Legislature and the governor are looking to strengthen Child Protective Services, finally, but I don't have much faith in the current regime, given their history. They're too busy getting bathroom bills passed.
According to the website Center for Public Priorities: State of Texas Children, 2016, one in four Texas children lives in poverty, with rates among Latinos and black populations three times higher than those for whites and Asians. One in five Texas children live in high-poverty neighborhoods, with higher concentrations for Latinos and blacks. Poverty rates are highest for single Latina mothers (51 percent) and lowest for single white mothers (29 percent). The cards are stacked against single mothers, and especially single minority mothers.
It will be argued that Texas has different demographics from Australia and South Korea and all those other states that rank ahead of it in the educational listings. I say that's all the more reason to focus on education and educators. It will be argued that there are cultural disparities shown in these demographics that make it harder to educate certain children. Again, all the more reason to focus on education and educators.
Many prospective teachers — some excellent ones — will be dissuaded by the priorities in Texas, impoverishing even more an already impoverished system.
Dana Glossbrenner, of San Angelo, is a retired educator turned author.