Blog: Funding

NFL players and teachers surprisingly have a lot in common. Neither has a pension plan that meets the majority of their needs. But for teachers, the failure of the plan to provide a good retirement benefit is particularly costly.

Want to see the future of school district budgets? Take a look at a slide deck presented this week by the Chief Financial Officer of the Los Angeles Unified School District (hat tip to reporter Kyle Stokes). The presentation was primarily about the rising cost of healthcare and post-employment benefits, but it included this alarming slide:

As shown in the graph, Health and Welfare (labeled “H & W” in the graph) benefits consumed 9.2 percent of the district’s budget in the 1991 school year. By 2021, they are projected to consume 18.5 percent of the district’s budget, rising to 28.4 percent by 2031. Pensions are similar: Los Angeles devoted 4.1 percent of its budget toward pensions 1991, but that will rise to 19 percent in 2021, and rise again to 22.4 percent by 2031.

Los Angeles is now considering a range of cost saving “opportunities,” primarily on the healthcare side, but assuming no policy changes, benefit costs for current workers and retirees will eat up more than half of L.A.’s budget by the year 2031.

As we’ve written before, this is a national trend, and it’s not a good one. It will compress teacher salaries and mean less money for books, field trips, libraries, foreign language, after-school programs, pre-k, etc. Like the Pac-Man game, benefit costs are steadily eating into the budget for everything else we care about in schools.

Spending on teacher pensions is often overlooked in analyzing school finance equity. Here are three reasons why that is a mistake.
All teachers deserve a secure retirement. But under today’s current teacher retirement savings plans, more than half of all new educators won’t qualify for even a minimal pension benefit. We took a state-by-state look at public teacher retirement plans, and the findings were dismal.
California' legislature recently approved a onetime payment of $1 billion for the state's school districts. However, it won't translate into a real increase in district budgets since those funds are hardly enough to cover burgeoning pension costs.
Over the last 15 years, teacher salaries have risen less than inflation, but insurance and retirement costs have risen much faster.
Judge recently dismissed CPS's lawsuit claiming the state funds schools inequitably and operates an inequitable pension system. As a a result, the district once again faces serious finance troubles and Gov. Rauner is withholding $215 million for CPS until the legislature enacts pension reforms.
Puerto Rico’s pension system is an accelerated example of pension problems in the rest of the country. This is where many states are headed if they don't make reforms now.
Teacher pension systems compound inequitable school funding formulas. In Illinois, the state teacher pension fund funnels less money to the kids who need it the most.
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.