CEA members and staff are testifying before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee today on issues affecting teacher retirement, including provisions to help attract and retain teachers as well as ways to ensure retired teachers can afford health insurance premiums.
CEA President Kate Dias testified with AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadell and Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz on an amendment they are proposing to the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS). The three, who together represent over 50,000 educators and superintendents in every local and regional school district in the state, are asking that the TRS be amended to include incentives for attracting and retaining educators.
- Pandemic Service Credit: The awarding of two credited years of service for each full year worked during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years—a measure that would help educators in the long run without a significant need for appropriations.
- Bonus Service Incentive for Financially Distressed Communities: Creation of a task force to study the impact of providing bonus credited years of service to educators in financially distressed communities. The prospect of providing bonus credited service has the potential to attract and retain educators in districts that see shortages resulting in poor staff ratios, high rates of attrition that undermine continuity for students, and turnover that costs districts for recruitment and training.
“Our three organizations have really come together to think of new and innovative ways to not just attract people to districts that have been historically challenged, but to also allow teachers to stay in those districts,” Dias told legislators. “What we don’t want to see is people who commit five or 10 years to a chronically underfunded district, who love these communities, and then have to abandon them because when they get closer to retirement, they want to see that wage increase. We’re looking at creative ways to incentivize and keep people in those districts.”
As for the pandemic service credit, Dias said it “would recognize that these years of working in the pandemic have been particularly taxing, particularly challenging, and continue to be some of the most stressful. It would serve as an acknowledgement of how incredibly difficult the last two years have been for our educators.”
Retiree health insurance subsidy, proposed Retirement Board changes
Also testifying before the Appropriations Committee today were CEA-Retired President William Murray and CEA Retirement Specialist Robyn Kaplan-Cho who urged legislators to amend SB 107 to increase the health insurance subsidy amount for all retired educators.
Murray, who also serves as vice chair of the Teachers’ Retirement Board, said that an increase to the health insurance subsidy for retired teachers is long overdue, as the subsidy amounts were set 26 years ago and have not been raised since, even as health insurance costs have more than doubled.
“I encourage you to amend this proposal to raise the subsidy to $220 per month for retired teachers under age 65 to purchase insurance coverage from their former school districts and to $440 per month for retired teachers age 65 and over who do not qualify for Medicare,” he said.
In her testimony, Kaplan-Cho shared a sample of the monthly premium cost for both a single retired teacher and a retiree plus their spouse in several districts. The premium costs range from $983.16 to $1,144.48 for a single retired teacher and $1,968.04 to $2,581.58 for a married teacher and their spouse.
“While they were actively employed, these retirees paid a contribution of 1.25% of their salary into the retired teachers’ health fund from which this subsidy is paid, yet they have not seen an increase in the subsidy since 1996,” Kaplan-Cho said. “Clearly, a 26-year freeze is too long. Even with the doubling of the subsidy, retiree health costs may still be prohibitively expensive, but at least it is a step in the right direction.”
Barbara Kane, a retired teacher from Regional School District 15, submitted written testimony to legislators saying she receives no subsidy from her district to help cover medical expenses. “My out-of-pocket expense for reported medical benefits for 2021 was $11,371.24. This is a true hardship for me, and I am going into a lot of credit card debt to cover my monthly expenses.”
Murray and Kaplan-Cho also spoke out in opposition to a proposal that would place the Teachers’ Retirement Board under the Comptroller’s Office for administrative purposes.
“Despite being understaffed for many years, the TRB continues to do an excellent job administering the pension and retiree health programs,” Kaplan-Cho said. “In recent years, they have improved their member response times, and revamped and expanded their website to provide increased online services for active and retired teachers, among other important improvements. And their administrative cost per member continues to be one of the lowest in the country.”
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