Blog: Funding

Thousands of teachers and other public sector workers have been retiring in recent years, fueled in part by changes to their pensions. A January Governing magazine story found increased retirement rates in Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin. Although this is often portrayed as a bad thing– the pension plan is pushing out scores of experienced workers!—new research from Maria D. Fitzpatrick and Michael F. Lovenheim in Education Next suggests we may not have reason to worry.

Faced with a budget crisis in the early 1990s, Illinois offered teachers a generous early retirement package. Large numbers of older, more experienced teachers took the offer, leading to a threefold increase in retirement rates. Over a two-year period, 10 percent of the total teaching workforce in Illinois retired.

None of the recent stories of mass retirements have been nearly as large as the 10 percent in Illinois, but what happened in Illinois can give us comfort that the retirements of today may not be as bad as predicted.

After the early retirement incentive program, Illinois had a dramatic influx of new teachers and a rapid decline in average teacher experience. The median retiring teacher had 27 years of experience and was replaced by a teacher with less than 3 years of experience. Across the state, average teacher experience declined and the number of new teachers increased substantially. All else equal, and since we know that teacher effectiveness rises with experience, we would have expected student achievement to go down.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, math and English test scores either stayed the same or went up. Importantly, those results held true for low-income, minority, and low-achieving students as well. There may be multiple reasons for this, but the massive retirements didn’t hurt student learning.

California's plan to pay down its $74 billion pension debt plan is simply staggering.
Retraoctive pay is unusual in its own right, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made some unique choices in how to distribute it.
What does New York City's new teacher contract mean for its pension plan?
School administrators should warn all new teachers about the significant savings penalty they face because of high mobility rates and long service requirements to qualify for a pension.

The Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings released two papers examining pension reform efforts across the nation. A presentation of the papers’ findings and a panel discussion followed. Read our picks for the best live tweets in response to the discussion.

As Chicago's pension funding is falling, the average teacher retirement benefit is rising. Not only do the retirement benefits come with an expensive price tag, but they're back-loaded for late-career teachers such that only a small percentage of teachers will receive a pension benefit in the first place.
The unpredictable nature of pension contributions has a real consequence on school district budgets and, therefore, on teachers.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed is sponsoring a statewide ballot initiative that would change California’s constitution to allow state and city governments to make prospective changes to retiree benefits. To better understand the initiative and why he’s sponsoring it, I spoke with Mayor Reed.
Pensions contribute a large amount of money to local economies, but size shouldn't be the end-all argument. We need to get past discussions of size and start talking about the most effective ways to ensure retirement security for all public sector workers.