Teacher pay vs. underfunded pensions
Pay isn’t the only issue for striking teachers, write Daarel Burnette II and Madeline Will in Education Week. In Kentucky, teachers are worried about a new law changing the underfunded pension system. Teacher retirement systems are shaky across the country, they write.
Teachers’ pension debt today tops out nationally at more than $516 billion, and states such as Connecticut, Illinois, and Michigan project they won’t have enough money within the next decade to pay teachers what they’re owed at retirement. At the same time, hefty increases to school spending in some states end up being used to pay down grossly underfunded pension obligations, putting pressure on the money available for instructional spending, staff salaries, and other needs.
Oregon’s generous pensions for teachers and other government employees are forcing cuts in services, reports Mary Williams Walsh the New York Times.
Dave Valenzuela, superintendent in Three Rivers, has cut the school year by five days, laid off the district librarian and English specialist and told each school to cut its budget by 10 percent. “This year, Three Rivers was poised to receive its first increase in state education funding in years, a reflection of growing enrollment,” writes Walsh. “But Oregon raised by more than 50 percent the amount that Three Rivers had to contribute to PERS,” which funds teacher retirements.
“While teachers are justly frustrated by take-home pay, their total compensation is typically a lot higher than many teachers realize,” write Rick Hess and Amy Cummings in RealClearPolicy. Compared to other workers, teachers have much costlier health and retirement benefits.
As former Obama-administration official Chad Aldeman has noted, “While the average civilian employee receives $1.78 for retirement benefits per hour of work, public school teachers receive $6.22 per hour in retirement compensation.” Between 2003 and 2014, even as teacher salaries declined, per-teacher average benefits spending increased from $14,000 to $21,000, to the point where it constituted 28 percent of total compensation.
Most of those dollars go to health care and pensions for retirees, they write, not to teachers who are in the classroom now.
Here’s more, plus a graph, from Aldeman. Today’s teachers are getting less take-home pay to fund generous benefits they’ll never collect.