Retirement Reality Check: Grading State Teacher Pension Plans

Kirsten Schmitz and Chad Aldeman
Publication Date: 
June 2017

In Retirement Reality Check: Grading State Teacher Pension Plans, we created a state pension grading rubric focused on two questions: 1. Are all teachers earning sufficient retirement benefits? And 2. Can teachers take their retirement benefits with them no matter where life takes them?

While we aren’t the first to tackle this work -- NCTQ and the Urban Institute have also produced pension report cards -- Bellwether’s report focuses on how well state pensions plans serve the unique needs of their teachers. We know states are different, as are their workforces. Teachers in Wyoming have different needs than teachers in New Jersey. Our grades acknowledge that states might need to employ different policies to meet the needs of their unique situations.

What we found is a mostly depressing picture: States have set up expensive, debt-ridden retirement systems where most teachers fail to qualify for decent retirement benefits. Without dramatic reforms, they’ll continue to fail teachers and leave in place unfair, unsound retirement systems.

While action items will vary from state-to-state, we believe there are steps all states can take to provide all their teachers with a secure retirement. Our recommendations advise states to:

  1. Get their finances under control

  2. Make portable teacher retirement plans the default to provide ALL teachers with financially secure benefits

  3. Expand Social Security coverage to include teachers

Go visit individual state pages from the map here, or read our methodology and the full report at the link below.