AUSTIN — Health care costs for teachers and other school district employees won’t increase next school year, and some might see a one-time decrease in their premiums, GOP state leaders have announced.
On Friday, a teacher group lobbyist said the move averts “a pretty whopping increase” that nearly 500,000 educators and their dependents were likely to face in the fiscal year that starts Sept. 1.
A day earlier, Gov. Greg Abbott and state legislative leaders agreed to apply $435 million of federal COVID-19 relief dollars to the “TRS ActiveCare” program run by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
Trustees of the Teacher Retirement System quickly approved the plan, which includes a new rate schedule that for the first time pegs insurance premiums to health care inflation in a specific geographic region.
Abbott said the money comes from “excess funding” for Texas from Congress and the past two presidents.
“Our teachers are fundamental in building brighter futures for the next generation of Texans, and it is imperative that they have access to health care so they can continue developing our state’s most valuable asset — our kids,” the Republican governor said in a written statement.
The allocation comes from federal Coronavirus Relief Funds established by the CARES Act signed by former President Donald Trump.
In last year’s third and final special session that Abbott called, the Legislature also gave the teacher annuity system $286 million in federal funds from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act. For both active and retired teachers, the money helped defray COVID-19-related health care costs.
During the pandemic, the Teacher Retirement System has provided some free additional benefits related to COVID-19, absorbing the costs.
Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, said school district employees in his district were facing some of the largest premium hikes for the upcoming year.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has joined Abbott in criticizing several school districts for purchasing books they say discuss racial and sexual matters that are inappropriate for school-age children, said in his part of the joint press release: “Other than a parent, no person is more important to the development of a child than a teacher, and I will continue to stand with Texas teachers for that reason.”
Sen. Joan Huffman and Rep. Greg Bonnen, both Houston Republicans, and both leading the budget-writing panels of their chambers, also signed off on the allocation of federal COVID-19 aid.
The Association of Texas Professional Educators, which is the state’s largest teacher group, representing about 90,000 school workers, said “all regions will experience a decrease in the average total premium, ranging from about 1% to 20%.”
“This is a true bright spot,” Shannon Holmes, the group’s executive director, said in a written statement.
“Teachers were about to get a pretty whopping increase because of the COVID-related costs,” said Monty Exter, the association’s lobbyist. For decades, active teachers’ costs have been increasing every year, he noted.
Teachers and other active employees seeking more information on TRS-ActiveCare regional pricing and the new rates that will begin Sept. 1 can visit the pension fund’s website.