Mostly True
Says in his years as a Texas legislator, "we passed three pay increases for teachers and provided them with health insurance."

Paul Sadler on Friday, January 27th, 2012 in a post on his campaign's Facebook page

Paul Sadler says he and others gave Texas teachers three pay raises and health insurance

Facebook was but a gleam in a Harvard student’s eye the last time Paul Sadler held public office. But the former Democratic state legislator embraced the social networking site’s political potential after he declared his candidacy to succeed the retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison late last year.

And on Jan. 27, 2012, Sadler posted this Facebook update: "In the time I worked on education issues, we passed 3 pay increases for teachers and provided them with health insurance."

Teachers got all that in Sadler’s legislative era? We wondered.

Sadler, a lawyer who works with the Wind Coalition energy advocacy group, won election to the Texas House on Nov. 6, 1990. For 12 years, he represented the East Texas district around Henderson, and for eight years he chaired the House Public Education Committee. Also, in 1997 and 2001, he headed committees on taxes and public school financing. During his legislative tenure, he also served on and chaired committees on health insurance for teachers and other education subcommittees.

In response to our inquiry, Sadler campaign spokesman Jeff Rotkoff told us that in 1995, Sadler helped lead an overhaul of state education laws that tied teacher pay hikes to increases in state education aid, which brought raises in 1997 and 1998. And in 1999, Rotkoff said, Sadler sponsored a $3,000-a-year pay raise for teachers.

In 2001, Rotkoff said, Sadler wrote a proposal that created a health insurance program for school employees.

Separately, we confirmed that:

  • Sadler sponsored the House version of Senate Bill 1 in 1995. The proposal, authored by Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, revised the state’s public education laws across the board; it was approved by the Senate in March 1995 and the House about two months later and then signed into law May 30, 1995.

    Brock Gregg, governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators told us in an interview that the overhaul changed the schedule of teacher pay raises; as a result, he said, most teachers saw pay increases in 1995-96. Gregg said lawmakers also added a salary "escalator" to the state’s education code. That provision said that whenever state funding to a school district increased, the district’s salary schedule must also increase.

    After the 1997 Legislature wrote a budget drawing on a revenue surplus, Gregg said, all Texas teachers fielded pay raises thanks to the established escalator clause. He said one raise of 5.5 percent occurred in 1997-98 and another, of 1 percent, kicked in during 1998-99. These figures match those sent to us by the Texas Education Agency.

    In a telephone interview, Sadler said that the "escalator" sprang from an idea he floated and Ratliff fleshed out, which then became law. Gregg said that although the original "escalator" was scrapped in 1999, lawmakers later made other efforts to ensure teachers got pay raises when districts fielded additional state aid.
  • Another raise arose after the 1999 Legislature advanced Senate Bill 4, which was authored by Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, carried in the House by Sadler and took effect Sept. 1, 1999. The Austin American-Statesman reported May 31, 1999, that the measure gave Texas teachers "their biggest pay raise ever" as part of the "largest public school spending increase in state history." From a total $2.1 billion for public schools, $1.7 billion went to pay raises, the story said, with teachers getting at least $3,000 more that year.

So, multiple raises accounted for.

And what about Sadler’s claim about "providing" teacher health insurance?

In 2001, Sadler authored House Bill 3343, the "Texas School Employees Uniform Group Health Coverage Act" (that’s TSEUGHCA, if you speak Gaelic), which was signed into law June 15, 2001. It created the TRS-ActiveCare program, a state-managed insurance pool.

At the time, most districts offered insurance plans to their employees, including teachers, according to an August 2000 TRS study. Texas Education Agency data show teachers made up about half of school employees in 2000.

The TRS study says, though, that only 38 percent of about 535,000 Texas public school employees had coverage comparable to that of state employees. Some 50 percent had insurance that did not compare favorably to state coverage, and 12 percent of employees did not sign up for district-offered coverage, the study says.

Only 350 employees in 17 of the state’s 1,000-plus districts were offered no coverage at all, the study says.

Sadler told us his 2001 proposal was intended both to extend coverage to all school employees and to raise the quality of coverage so that all employees had access to comparable insurance.

According to a 2001 report by the nonpartisan House Research Organization, the 1991 Legislature had directed school districts to give employees coverage equivalent to that of state workers, but the law lacked enforcement provisions.

Gregg told us in interviews that the 2001 TRS-ActiveCare program was created to acquire and administer group insurance from a third party, and the law also gave all teachers $1,000 per year toward its cost. Association of Texas Professional Educators lobbyist Josh Sanderson told us via email that the $1,000 stipend was intended to be an annual payment but was cut to $500 in 2003 for full-time teachers and then, in a 2006 special session, rolled into a $2,500 raise in educators’ pay.

According to a May 2002 guide to the law produced by the Legislative Budget Board, after the first sign-up deadline of Sept. 30, 2001, small districts and other entities employing a total 147,000 people had joined TRS-ActiveCare. Larger districts were added later, though not all chose to participate.

Currently, Texas State Teachers Association spokesman Clay Robison told us by email, all Texas teachers have access to insurance comparable to state employees’. ActiveCare covers more than 445,000 employees and dependents, he said, and 89 percent of eligible districts and similar education entities participate in the program. Austin and Houston are examples of large districts that have their own health plans, he said.

Sadler said that although nearly 40 percent of school employees had comparable coverage before 2001, he believes such accounting doesn’t give an accurate picture of the 2001 law’s impact. He said he didn’t remember the 1991 mandate that districts offer comparable coverage, but it obviously had little effect.

Of his work on teacher pay raises and insurance, Sadler said, "I know it changed the landscape."

Teacher lobby groups have hailed Sadler’s advocacy.

In a Dec. 2, 2001, Statesman news story, TSTA director of governmental relations Jay Levin credits Sadler with helping to bring about the 1999 raise of $3,000 and the health insurance program for teachers. Robison told us it’s fair for Sadler to claim credit for the pay raises and insurance initiative because he chaired the public education panel through those years. Gregg likewise said Sadler merits a goodly share of the credit. "Sadler was the leading proponent for pay increases and later health insurance for educators," Gregg said.

Our ruling

Sadler played a pivotal role in ensuring several teacher pay raises and also was key to lawmakers giving school workers including teachers access to insurance benefits equal to those accorded state employees.

However, contrary to Sadler’s Facebook wording, the latter development did not provide teachers with insurance. Nearly every Texas teacher had access to some kind of coverage before the 2001 action. Still, the Sadler-authored change gave every school employee access to insurance equivalent to state workers’ coverage.

We rate Sadler’s claim Mostly True.