Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Teachers' $500 Billion (and Growing) Pension Problem

Rotherham with an earlier column on this topic:

Teacher pensions may not sound like a sexy or even high-profile issue, but keep reading: they're threatening the fiscal health of many states and could cost you — yes, you — thousands of dollars. And like the savings and loan crisis at the end of 1980s or the current housing-market mess, insiders see big trouble ahead in the next few years and are starting to sound warnings.

Today there is an almost $500 billion shortfall for funding teacher pensions, and that gap is growing. Why should you care? Because ultimately taxpayers are on the hook for that money. But the problem doesn't just end there. The way teacher pensions operate is badly suited to today's teacher workforce, where 30-year careers are no longer the norm. The current set-up penalizes teachers who move between states, switch to private or public charter schools that do not participate in the pension system or leave teaching altogether. Meanwhile, it becomes financial suicide for teachers to change careers after a certain point even if they no longer want to teach or are not good at it.

But first, let's talk about the money. Teacher pensions are part of a larger set of benefits that states and cities offer public employees, including health care and pension programs for cops, garbage men and other public employees. The Pew Center on the States puts the total shortfall for these benefits at $1 trillion. You read that right: trillion with a T. Obviously, these are important benefits to offer, but the costs are out of hand.


School of Thought

Teachers' $500 Billion (and Growing) Pension Problem

By Andrew J. Rotherham Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010


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