Coalition of Retired Educators rally at Nacogdoches County Courthouse. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Senator Robert Nichols patiently addressed teachers' concerns. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Teachers surrounded Nichols upset over rising insurance rates for retirees. (Source: KTRE Staff)
CORE is a new group formed following a discussin among teacher friends. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Retired teachers from East Texas spoke out loud and clear against recently signed legislation that increases the cost of their health insurance Thursday.
Their cries for support were heard at a rally in front of the Nacogdoches County Courthouse.
"Honk for teachers. Honk for teachers," chanted teachers lined along North and Main Street.
Passing motorists obliged their cry.
They held signs with messages like, "Support Public School Teachers" and '" gave my best! (For 37 years) You can't change the rules!"
"Health care is skyrocketing in cost. Ours has just nearly tripled this year." said Donna Christopher, one of several CORE founders and a retired teacher since 2004.
The insurance rules in teachers' pensions have changed over the years. It's not what longtime teachers had expected at retirement. The rising costs cause some teachers to compromise on their insurance selections.
Sherry Wiggins, another CORE Founder and retiree, received an unexpected jolt when choosing an insurance plan.
"It is unaffordable, basically, catastrophic care. It's not what I signed up for," Wiggins said. "When I retired, I thought it would be assured, it is not," said Wiggins.
Senator Robert Nichols appeared at the rally. The Jacksonville Republican was promptly surrounded by teachers opposed to the recently signed House Bill 3976. It was sponsored by Lufkin State Representative Trent Ashby. One of the co-sponsors was State Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches. Nichols also voted for the bill even though he knows it will increase the teachers' insurance premiums.
"You could vote against it and have the system crash. It would have been over a billion dollars deficit," Nichols said.
Nichols said the state added a significant share toward teachers' health insurance. CORE argues the contribution isn't enough.
Latricia Jacobs, a CORE Founder and retired teacher said, "We also realize there's a rainy-day fund of $11 billion, so why not take $4 billion out to help public education."
Teachers talked of delaying retirement or taking second jobs to make ends meet.
"Retired teachers over 65 have not had an increase in our benefits in our pension, since 2001," one teacher said. "So that's 16 years without any cost of living raise."
Nichols told teachers that's wrong and he will push for changes.
"The problem is if we do not fix the problem the people, the young people will quit going into public education," Nichols said.
The base pay of first-year teachers ranks 43rd in the nation.
Other teacher organizations joined the CORE rally. Senator Nichols advised maintaining a unified voice will give educators strength in Austin.