Max Marchitello's blog

  • Teacher pensions are more complicated than they appear, and that has implications for teachers.
  • Given the benefits to both the employee and the employer, states should expand existing portable retirement options offered to other state employees to teachers as well.
  • As a part of its ongoing teacher diversity series, the Brown Center on Education Policy recently published a piece looking at different incentive structures districts use to attract people to the education profession. They found that some incentives are related with an increase in educator diversity. These findings are instructive and districts may want to consider them as a part of their teacher diversity efforts. That said, our research suggests that even once a person of color enters the education profession, she likely will still face significant barriers to advancement and higher salaries.

    The Brown Center’s study relied on 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), which provides information on the context of public and private schools across the country. Among the race-neutral financial incentive policies they studied, they found that offering relocation assistance, loan forgiveness, and bonuses for excellence in teaching are associated with increased staff diversity. As such, they recommend districts interested in increasing racial diversity explore these racially-neutral financial incentive structures.

    These findings are important in their own right. Nevertheless, diversifying the education workforce does not stop after recruitment. More must be done to address the fact that educators of color must contend with additional barriers once they enter the profession.

    In our recent report we explored race-and gender-based salary gaps in Illinois. We found that women earn salaries that are on average $5,500 less than what men earn. As shown in the graph below, we also found significant gender-based pay gaps within races and ethnicities. Hispanic women, for example, earn on average $4,500 less in salaries than Hispanic men.

  • The recent firing of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe prompted a political firestorm. In addition to the posturing and prognosticating, many observers were outraged that he was fired just hours before he could retire with full pension benefits. The concept of suddenly losing your retirement savings is understandably alarming to most Americans. If nothing else, the McCabe example is a good reminder that at-will employment and back-end “guaranteed” benefit systems are not always a sure thing.  For that reason, the McCabe story draws many parallels to the problems with current teacher retirement benefits.

    Let’s first discuss the real consequences of McCabe’s firing on his pension. Then, tackle how the worry over his financial future is more aptly applied to teachers and their pension benefits.

    McCabe was fired right before his 50th birthday. The timing is significant because under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), law enforcement officials qualify for early retirement with full-benefits at age 50 if they have at least 20 years of service. Other federal employees who do not work in law enforcement, say at the U.S. Department of Education, aren’t eligible for this deal.

    So, McCabe’s pension hasn’t been emptied out. But that isn’t to say it hasn’t been negatively affected. McCabe won’t qualify for full benefits for another 7 years, his multiplier will get bumped down, and he lost post-employment health coverage. In the end, this adds up to a considerable financial loss. According to an analysis from the Urban Institute, McCabe lost over $1 million in total pension wealth, amounting to around three-quarters of its total value.

    Some have argued that it’s not worth shedding tears over McCabe’s predicament (at least in terms of his retirement), since federal pensions are generous. I’m not particularly interested in litigating how much financial loss is worthy of sympathy. However, it is fair to say that in the end McCabe still will receive a pension. And in the meantime, he likely will be able to find gainful employment elsewhere, retire again, and collect Social Security.

    In some ways, McCabe is more fortunate than most teachers.

  • In a new report, we studied Illinois’ educator salary and tenure data, and found that women typically earn salaries that are $5,500 lower than their male colleagues. This pay gap continues into retirement, leaving women with lower annual benefits even if they worked the same number of years.