By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
Members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association want more consistent funding for their pensions; on Thursday, both House District 55 candidates said they would give it to them.
Republican Ralph Sheffield and Democrat Sam Murphey answered questions from a room full of teachers gathered at their regular meeting at Grace Presbyterian Church Thursday afternoon.
While the topics were limited to those of interest to teachers, the question-and-answer session was not without a bit of bickering from the two candidates.
The first question was on the topic of school vouchers, which has been a touchy subject during the candidates' first two forums, and continues to be.
Murphey said he's not for vouchers under any circumstance and that Sheffield is a strong supporter of vouchers.
Sheffield said he's for teachers first and would not accept legislation that would take away from teachers. Sheffield added that he favors vouchers under specific circumstances, but only in areas in which parents badly need that added choice.
"I will not do anything to take away from public education. I do think that parents need choice," Sheffield said. "I don't think vouchers will work in Bell County. When kids are in bad schools in bad districts ?, I do think vouchers could be put in place in those areas. I think all kids should get a fair education, and I don't want to limit choice."
Murphey countered by saying that Sheffield tries to duck under his own support by what he says, and then gave numerous examples of improved percentages of school dropout ratings in Bell County.
But both say they are in favor of improving the pension system.
Teachers have lost 25 percent of their buying power Murphey said, due to the lack of indexing of the pension fund. He said it's unfair that his military pension gets indexed due to inflation, but the teachers aren't given the same treatment.
"My pension is indexed for inflation every year, and it's criminal and wrong, and your buying power has been weak," Murphey said. "It should be indexed to inflation every single year."
Sheffield said he was very much in favor of the vocational education programs in place as well, and agreed with Murphey on the stance of pension increases.
In questions about pension increases and whether they'd support legislation, both candidates said yes.
"That should be one of the first tasks taken up by this Legislature when it convenes in January," Murphey responded. "I think it shows very little respect to our retired teachers who have not had a cost of living raise for eight years. The 13th check, not withstanding eight years of frozen wages in our economy, means a real loss of purchasing power and cannot be allowed to continue."
Sheffield had a slightly different take.
"I'm in favor of taking care of those who have given their lives to educate our work force," Sheffield said. "I think the 13th check was a financially sound and productive way to help retired teachers gain an additional benefit. As you know, there is no cost-of-living adjustment for your pension; I will be an advocate for retired teachers to see that their pensions keep up with inflation."
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.