Blog: State Pension Plans

People may assume that an "expensive" retirement must obviously translate into one that's also "generous" for workers. But that's not the way teacher pension plans work.
2017 was a busy year for teacher pension reform. Here is a handful of our most popular and significant work from the past year.

WalletHub recently released its new rankings of the best states for teachers. This year, there is a new best and worst state. New York grades as the best state overall, while Arizona came in last.

WalletHub graded states based on their opportunity and completion, which included salaries, pensions, growth, and even tenure. They then also took into account the state’s academic and work environment, which among other things, was based on student-teacher ratios, turnover, and union strength. Altogether, this ranking is based on a breadth of variables.  

WalletHub made at least one key improvement from its rankings last year: They amended how they evaluate teacher pensions. Previously, they rated states solely on the average pension paid out to retirees. As I wrote last year, it is a big problem to evaluate a state pension system this way, because average pensions don’t tell the whole story of a state’s pension system. Less than half of teachers even qualify for a pension. Take New York, WalletHub’s highest rated state. It has an average pension of around $44,000 but only 40 percent of teachers stay long enough to qualify for one in the first place.

To their credit, WalletHub responded to this criticism and upgraded how they assess the quality of state pensions. They now also include the percent of teachers whose pension doesn’t break even. In other words, teachers whose pension benefits are less valuable than their own contributions to the pension fund. This is a good decision by WalletHub that improves how they evaluate teacher pensions across the country.

We have our own 50-state ranking of state pension systems. Check out how your state measures up.

Not-so-breaking news: A pension advocacy group thinks pensions are the best retirement option for all workers.
Pension reform would likely benefit South Carolina's teachers and students.
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.
New Jersey's public employee pension fund faces a fiscal crisis. The candidates for Governor need to put forth serious plans to address the state's pension woes should they win election. Each candidate's plans have some strong features. However, they best solution would take elements from each.
Pension systems don't believe that back-end teacher salary bumps are sufficient to change teacher behavior.