There is considerable evidence that teacher pension systems fail to meet the retirement needs of a majority of teachers and thus are in need of serious reform. Yet despite the evidence, the NEA continues -- to the detriment of many of their members -- to staunchly advocate for the traditional teacher pension and against virtually all proposed reforms.
School district spending on employee benefits has growth quickly. Now, over 22 percent of per pupil expenditures goes toward benefits payments. On average $2,524 is spent per student on benefits alone.
For some professions, it’s all about: “location, location, location.” For online start-ups, you probably want to be in Silicon Valley. If you want to work on the stock market, head to New York City. But for teachers, where you work doesn’t matter, right?
According to WalletHub’s recent analysis, there is significant variation in teacher job quality from state-to-state.
But WalletHub’s rankings shouldn’t be taken at face value. And, as with any aggregate state ranking, the devil is in the details. About 14 percent of their total Job Opportunity & Completion Rank is based on the cost-adjusted “average” teacher pension in each state.
That’s a big problem. Averages can easily distort what’s actually going on.
Evaluating teacher retirement systems based on the average pension is misleading, because the majority of teachers do not even receive a pension. In Washington, D.C., for example, the average teacher pension is extremely high at almost $65,000, but only 29 percent of teachers ever qualify for a pension. So rating D.C.’s pension system on the average benefit of those who remain misrepresents the retirement realities teachers face. Simply put, a state’s average pension value does not provide much useful information about the quality of teachers’ retirement.
There are a couple of ways WalletHub could have evaluated state pension systems more effectively. For example, they could have used a vesting rate. This would grade states on the percentage of teachers that actually qualify for a pension. But even that won’t address other important concerns, such as whether teacher retirement benefits are portable or whether a state’s pension system is financially stable.
In WalletHub’s defense, teacher pensions are complicated. In fact, this points to a larger problem: teachers often lack sufficient information about their retirement. What is the vesting period? Do I qualify for Social Security? What is the retirement age?
Shirley Ben-Ami was a teacher for nearly 35 years. She taught fourteen and half years in the New York City Public Schools and spent the last 20 years in Montgomery County, Maryland. In the following interview Ms. Ben-Ami talks about her experiences in the classroom and when it was time for her to retire.