State agencies are in the process of developing their budget requests (Legislative Appropriations Requests, or LARs) for the next legislative session, so TCTA recently took the opportunity to again ask Education Commissioner Mike Morath to include increased funding for school employee health insurance in the TEA budget. Morath’s response was encouraging, though not definitive (see excerpts below), and TCTA will continue to urge state officials and legislators to deal with this increasingly critical issue.

In his written response to TCTA, Commissioner Morath said: “I firmly believe teachers are vital to the educational attainment of our students. It is important that they feel valued and are treated as the professionals they are in their craft. … [I]n my conversations with members of the legislature it is clear that the issues teachers face regarding their retirement and health plans are still at the top of their minds. I agree with you on the importance of this issue. … I will ensure we bring this particular request to our discussions and will consider whether we are able to include it in our LAR submission.”

Morath noted that the legislature faces competing priorities in the upcoming session, including the costs arising from Hurricane Harvey devastation in 2017, along with a projected budget shortfall. TCTA encourages our members to ask your legislators to make increased funding for teacher health insurance a priority in the 2019 legislative session. For information to help you while communicating with lawmakers, see the background section below:

Background

Funding for active employee health insurance has been largely ignored during the budget process over the years because of a few complicating factors:

  1. Some employees’ insurance is provided through the state program (ActiveCare), some through state-approved HMOs, and some through local insurance plans. However, funding from the state — $75 per employee per month — is the same for all school employees. (School districts must contribute at least $150 per employee per month; many contribute more.)
  2. ActiveCare is administered through the Teacher Retirement System, but TRS has no involvement with the funding for the program, and thus there is no place in the TRS budget to ask for an increase.
  3. The state’s $75 contribution is distributed through the school finance formulas (via the Texas Education Agency and the Foundation School Program) but there is not even a line item in the TEA budget for it.

Because of these factors, no agency has taken responsibility for asking for an increase in funding. This has contributed to the fact that the state’s contribution has remained at $75 since the plan was first implemented in 2002. Without state funding increases, the burden has fallen on employees (primarily) and districts (to a lesser extent, and solely at their own discretion) to cover the soaring premium hikes of the last 16 years.