State Rep. Trent Ashby met with members of the Angelina Retired Teachers and School Personnel Association on Tuesday to discuss legislative changes that will affect them.

David Franssen, association president, introduced the Lufkin Republican and thanked him for his 100% education-friendly track record.

“We all know Texas has a long way to go with public education, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without Trent Ashby,” Franssen said.

Ashby recalled the experiences he and his family shared in education, and the common experience that everyone has over time with the educators who have influenced them.

“It’s not lost upon me and it’s not lost upon any of our legislators that we all are where we are, no matter where we are in life, because we had teachers that cared about us and wanted to give us a solid foundation in education to allow us to be successful,” Ashby said.

Ashby began by talking about an increase in the rate of assumption for the Teacher Retirement System pension fund. He said the TRS board of directors voted last summer to reduce the rate of assumption from 8% to 7.25%.

“What that means, practically, is when you lower a rate of assumption or return on investment is that it increases your unfunded liabilities of your pension fund,” Ashby said.

State law says that legislators cannot offer something like a cost of living adjustment until that pension fund is actuarily sound. So one of the goals of the 86th legislative session was to shore up that pension fund and make it actuarily sound, he said.

“To get there, we had to increase the contribution from some of the stakeholders,” Ashby said. “We did not ask for any increases from our retired teachers, but we significantly increased the state contribution from 6.8% to 8.8%. That comes at a cost over the next six years to the state of over $1.1 billion.”

School districts and active teachers also received an increase in the amount they put into the fund.

The Texas Legislature also was able to provide a 13th check to retirees, something Ashby said was “long overdue.”

“I wasn’t around the last time they did this, but I know one of the things that I’ve heard about over the last seven years was that they (provided the 13th check), but they moved the cutoff date so far back that it was really only a certain group of retirees who was eligible for that 13th check,” Ashby said.

This 13th check was available to all current retired educators as of Dec. 31, 2018.

A 13th check is an additional check in the amount of a retired educator’s monthly allowance beyond the typical 12 months of the school year.

He said the cost of that 13th check was $589 million out of the state’s economic stabilization, or Rainy Day, fund.

He also discussed Senate Bill 12, which deals with the recent increases in premiums and deductibles for TRS care recipients.

“One of the things I took away from my conversations after that session was that we really, really, really needed to do all that we could to prevent those increases from continuing to go forward,” Ashby said.

This year, the Legislature funded the shortfall in TRS care, which was approximately $231 million, so that retired teachers wouldn’t have to pay for that in increased premiums.

He also briefly discussed his time working on the House’s Public Education Committee. He said it was a meaningful experience

“I will tell you, I had an idea, but I did not appreciate the work that went into the Public Education Committee,” he said. “More bills were referred to the Public Education Committee than any committee in the Texas House. We spent more time, more hours, logged in hearings than any other committee in the Texas House.

“It is a committee where you have to work,” he said. “But I will tell you, as far as reward, it’s almost indescribable to know you’ve had a small thumbprint on trying to shape the policy that’s going to affect the 5.4 million and growing school children in Texas.”

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