AUSTIN, Texas – Early voting continues around the state. Texans will have the chance to vote on 14 different amendments that will make changes to the state constitution. One of them is a proposition to give retired public school teachers a cost of living adjustment.
Sonja Pace is one of several former educators who has spoken out for higher pay. In Texas, retirees can get a pension based on their age and years of service. Pace, who taught middle school science, retired in 2020. She makes about $1,900 a month and works a part-time job to make ends meet. She feels the state can afford more money for former teachers like herself.
“We have a surplus, and it's taken this long to decide to accommodate teachers,” Pace said. “Teachers are the foundation to everything.”
If Proposition 9 passes, Pace expects her paycheck to go up less than a hundred dollars. While she would like more, she says anything helps. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008.
“It will help with the medicine,” she said. “I get an MRI once a year for my MS; however, I have not had it this year because the cost is so much.”
Many retirees lobbied for the measure at the Capitol this year. The Texas American Federation of Teachers says on average, its teachers get less than $2,200 a month.
“Seventy percent of all of our current retired school employees in Texas have never had a cost of living increase since they've been retired. Some of those folks have been retired for as long as 20 years, and they've not had an increase in their retirement benefits,” said Tim Lee, the executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA).
Lee says he hasn’t heard of much opposition, and there was unanimous support for the legislation in the House and Senate.
“There's no tax burden going forward on any taxpayer,” Lee said. “The districts, the active teachers are not going to pay for this.”
If approved by voters, raises will be staggered based on when the teacher retired. According to TRTA, about 420,000 retirees could see a pay increase.
“Everything is going up,” Pace said. “And therefore we need to be able to pay our bills and do simple things, [and] enjoy life as well. And so this will be helpful for all educators because we gave so much. We spend so much of our money in the classroom for supplies for kids, feeding kids, or even clothing kids. And so we went into our own budget, and we still are going into our own budget, trying to help out with different things.”
Now, it’s up to voters to decide if they want to give retired teachers a pay raise.
“I believe that Texas citizens who are going to show up and vote on this probably know a teacher that changed their life. They probably have a teacher in their family. Heck, their mom or their dad may have been in public education, and they know what they invested in all of these students in this state,” Pace said. “So my belief is that Texans are going to support this, and they're going to strongly support it.”