By Ovidia Molina and Barbara Davis-Staley
In 2005, almost two decades ago, George W. Bush was in his second term as president, Rick Perry was still governor of Texas, Pope John Paul II died that year and Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans.
A lot has happened since 2005, including inflationary increases in the cost of just about everything. But today, Texas teachers and other public school employees who retired that year are still receiving the same Teacher Retirement System pension annuity that they did then. Their average monthly benefit is less than $1,800, and many receive less than that.
Eighteen years of inflation have eroded the purchasing power of those pensions by about a third, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What’s more, most retired educators in Texas don’t receive Social Security. This means that their eroding TRS pensions are the only nest eggs on which many of these retirees can live. We have heard from them that sometimes they are forced to choose between paying their utility bills or buying enough groceries.
These retirees spent their working lives teaching millions of Texas school children, including many of you, how to become independent, self-sufficient and important parts of your community. They have earned and deserve better than this. They were promised livable retirements when they became educators, and, Texas, we must keep our promise.
Unlike Social Security, the TRS pension does not provide automatic cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. These benefit adjustments must be approved by the Texas Legislature, which – until this year – hadn’t approved a COLA since 2013. And that COLA applied only to school employees who retired before Sept. 1, 2004.
Thanks to higher salaries, the TRS benefits for many former teachers who retired since 2005 have improved. But the benefits are still substandard, and many recent retirees also are struggling to make ends meet. The average TRS annuity for 2022 was only $2,174 a month. This is not right.
Texas voters now have an opportunity to provide these retired educators some long-overdue relief. Last spring, the Texas Legislature approved new COLAs for them. They will be on the Nov. 7 constitutional amendments ballot as Proposition 9, which must win voter approval for the COLAs to go into effect.
These pension adjustments will be modest, ranging from 2 to 6 percent, depending on when an individual retired, and they will not require a tax increase. The Legislature already has appropriated the necessary funding, contingent on Proposition 9’s approval. We just need you to support it.
Think back to all the teachers who helped you get to where you are today. You probably don’t remember all their names, but each was committed to your success. They taught you reading, math, science, social studies, art, music and so much more. If you haven’t been able to thank them before, now’s your chance.
Please vote for Proposition 9 on Nov. 7 or, better yet, beat the rush and vote early Oct. 23 through Nov. 3. Vote for Prop 9!
Ovidia Molina is president of the Texas State Teachers Association. Barbara Davis-Staley is president of TSTA-Retired.