By Jackie Stone

Killeen Daily Herald

COPPERAS COVE – Wanda Foster always knew she wanted to be a teacher, but after 38 years in the Copperas Cove Independent School District, she is ready to join the ranks of the area's retired teachers.

The Copperas Cove Retired Teachers' Association honored Foster and 16 other newly retired school employees at the group's first meeting of the year Thursday.

State Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, attended the luncheon and congratulated the retirees on their accomplishments before updating members on public education legislation passed by the Texas Legislature in the spring.

"I've been in your shoes; I've been a classroom teacher, and God bless you for dedicating your entire lives to educating our children," Miller said.

Foster, who most recently taught Texas history at S.C. Lee Junior High School, said she would miss the camaraderie with her fellow teachers and getting to know students as they pass through her classes.

"Getting to know them, watching them grow. Seeing them 10 years later when they graduate from high school or when they're out in the community, and they come up and say, 'Oh, I had you. Do you remember me?'" Foster said.

The Retired Teachers Association participates in volunteer and community work around Copperas Cove, as well as in advocacy for local retired teachers and those around the state.

"We generally serve and support like we've done all our life with kids and people in the community," said Mike Wilburn, president of the association.

One major change the group is interested in seeing is a cost of living increase for retired teachers. Wilburn said that has not happened in eight years.

"In other words, if you got a thousand dollars a month eight years ago, that's all you're getting now," he said.

The Legislature didn't pass an increase this year, but it did approve a $500 bonus for retired teachers this year.

"It's not much, but it's something. It was all we could do under the budget constraints we were under," Miller said, adding that retired teachers were among the few groups who got any kind of payout.

Miller said a cost of living increase didn't happen because the Teachers' Retirement System account was hurt by stock losses. He said in order for the state to legally authorize an increase, the account would have to have enough money in it for 30 years of retirement payouts

The approved $500 bonus still has to be approved by the Texas attorney general's office before retired teachers begin receiving their checks.

Miller also outlined other new education legislation and answered questions from the group.

One new law allows school districts to use some of their textbook funding for digital and electronic teaching tools.

"Texas, and the nation as a whole, is falling behind. We're using last century's teaching techniques, and we have to move away from the chalkboard and hardback books and get in to the digital age," Miller said.

When asked, the lawmaker said electronic textbooks would only be an option, not mandatory. He added that it could be cheaper to have a laptop for each student rather than four or five textbooks for each student.

"These people, I really admire them, because they've dedicated their lives to educating our youth, which is the backbone of our country. Without an education, we won't amount to much," Miller said of the retired teachers group.

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