November Is Foundation Month! 

November has been designated by the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) as a time to raise awareness of the good deeds of its charitable partner organization, the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation (TRTF). The Foundation also wants to express its gratitude to all TRTA members and our friends.

Due to your generosity, TRTF has changed many lives by providing financial assistance to retirees in need through the “A Helping Hand” program, Student Scholarships and Classroom Assistance Grants.  The Foundation’s educational program, known as the Legacy Campaign, continues to promote a positive image of public education in Texas.

You should have received the Foundation’s annual appeal letter in your mailbox recently. The letter stresses how we as former educators are leaving a legacy of helping our own. A TRTA member from Laredo immediately responded to the letter with a $500 donation. She is celebrating her 100th birthday on November 5th! Another member donated one dollar. Both members understand the importance of our “A Helping Hand” program and have offered their heartfelt support.

Though not everyone can respond with a donation, there are many ways you can help share the good deeds of the Foundation this month! Sharing our newest Legacy educational video, “Preserving the Legacy: Actives and Retirees Working Together,” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPXobFBLr5A) is a great way to get involved. Telling retirees who may need financial help about “A Helping Hand” is another way to help our own! Just this week, the Foundation received a call from a retiree who has no extra money to repair a flat tire. When thinking of your family and friends this holiday season, please consider your TRTA family.

For more information about how you can participate, contact Beth Unite at 1.800.880.1650 or help@trtf.org. If you wish to make a donation online, please visit the Foundation web page www.trtf.org.

Public Pensions Being Debated Across the Country  

Although TRTA and its members had a successful legislative session in 2013, protecting and improving the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension plan, the debate about public pension plans is as divisive as ever.

Many of our members have heard of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the organization’s opposition to traditional defined benefit pension plans (the type Texas retired and active education employees rely upon for their own retirement security). In 2013, The Arnold Foundation partnered with the Pew Research Center. Together, both organizations hosted a conference in October of this year entitled “Summit on Sustainable State and Local Retirement Systems: Responsible Stewardship of Public Funds and Fairness for Employees.”

The conference featured the opposing viewpoints of many legislative officials and experts, with some claiming that defined benefit plans are not sustainable for the long-term and are unfair to future generations and others asserting the failure of 401(k)-style plans (defined contribution plans) and support of DB plans. The conference presented data that most Americans support DB plans for public sector workers, such as teachers and public safety employees.

While normally any conference presented by the Arnold Foundation might be skewed towards complete opposition of DB plans, the presence of many state officials and public sector organizations made for a more balanced event.

The National Council on Teacher Retirement (NCTR) summarized the event with the following words of advice: “no one should be under the impression that this particular challenge is over or abating.” A conference attendee reiterated that sentiment by saying “I think the DB opponents sense an opportunity to strike.”

It is important to note that Texas was not represented at this conference. The bipartisan, sensible changes made to TRS in 2013 through Senate Bill 1458 would make for a very informative panel discussion. Though Texas is truly a model for what a sustainable pension plan can be, we are still at risk of attack from DB opponents.

Yet another conference held recently, “Save Our Cities: Reforming Public Pensions to Protect Public Services,” was not as fair in its discussion of DB plans. Joshua Rauh, a professor from Stanford, proclaimed that “there is really no state or local government across the U.S. that sponsors any kind of DB pension plan that has really run a balanced budget.” Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who supports converting DB plans to DC plans, stated that “in the next several years, you are going to see city after city, state after state, go bankrupt.”

This is exactly the type of rhetoric that our own legislators hear when they attend conferences. Our members should remain focused on communicating with candidates for office and talk to them about the value Texas TRS brings to its 1,000,000+ members. In the 84th Legislative Session that begins in 2015, the Texas Legislature will have several new elected officials, including Representatives, Senators and even a new Governor. More than half of the Texas Legislature will have two years or less experience in office.

TRTA must start its campaign to educate candidates and future legislators NOW. As former educators, we must embrace the opportunity to teach candidates about what makes Texas TRS different from pension plans in some other states. Texas TRS currently is actuarially sound. Its retirees have an average monthly income of $1800 and most do not have Social Security benefits. The plan is modest and absolutely necessary for the retirement security of more than 300,000 retirees and 800,000 pre-retirees.

It is also important that we talk to current public education employees about TRS. Many are unaware of the two federal provisions that drastically reduce or completely eliminate any Social Security benefits they may be eligible for (even spousal benefits) and that TRS is their sole source of retirement security! We must work together to protect and sustain the TRS pension plan for our own generation and the generations to come.

Did you know active school personnel can also join TRTA? As we visit with current employees about planning for their future, let’s also share the benefits of being a member of the nation’s largest association of public education retirees. For information about how to join TRTA, please contact us at 1.800.880.1650 or visit www.trta.org.