Category Archives: Teacher Pensions

Media: “Nebraska should shift to this approach for teacher pensions” in The Omaha World-Herald

If COVID-19 causes an economic downturn anything like the last one, that means bad news for Nebraska’s teacher pension plan. In a new piece for The Omaha World-Herald, I argue that Nebraska leaders will face a tough choice. They can raise contribution rates and cut teacher benefits, like they did after the last recession, or they could extend a retirement plan the state already has in place for state employees to also cover its teachers. I suggest the latter:

In short, Nebraska is offering its state employees a better deal than it offers its public school teachers. Compared to teachers, state employees qualify for retirement benefits sooner, receive a higher employer contribution toward those benefits, and are better shielded from market downturns.

Rather than continuing to cut teacher benefits, Nebraska legislators should take this opportunity to extend its existing cash balance plan to teachers, and teachers should take this opportunity to demand better for themselves. 

Read the full piece here.

Media: “Teacher pension plans are getting riskier—and it could backfire on American schools” at the Brown Center Chalkboard

Teachers are relatively risk-averse compared to other professionals, but the pension plans covering 90 percent of teachers are taking substantial risks on their behalf. In fact, in a new piece for Brookings, I argue that risk-taking behavior by teacher pension plans has the potential to harm individual teachers and the teaching profession writ large:

The average teacher may not follow the bond markets very closely, and concepts like the risk premium taken on by their respective pension plan may feel abstract, but that doesn’t mean they don’t affect the average teacher. When pension plans fail to hit their aggressive investment targets, that can create additional costs that trickle down to teachers.

You can read the entire piece at the Brown Center Chalkboard.

7 Alternate Questions for Public Education Forum 2020

Saturday at 9 a.m. EST, eight presidential candidates are expected to participate in “Public Education Forum 2020,” a debate sponsored by teachers unions, civil rights groups, and other organizations.

According to NBC News, topics will include: “early childhood education, school investment, student debt and disparities in public education, among other issues.”

Given the forum’s sponsors, who tend towards anti-charter and anti-choice perspectives, it’s unlikely that the conversation will reflect a wide spread of education reform views.

So I polled some members of our team for questions they hope will be asked — even if they suspect it’s unlikely. Here are seven: Continue reading

Kentucky Has a New Governor. We Hope He’s Not a Jerk About Education Policy.

Although he took more than a week to concede, Kentucky’s 62nd governor, Republican Matt Bevin, will not serve a second term. Experts agree that his provocative and insulting style, particularly his comments about teachers, attributed to his loss. Most notoriously, Bevin called teachers “thugs” and blamed them for the sexual assault of children and the shooting of a seven-year-old girl, after teachers protested the legislature’s sneaky efforts to reform the state’s pension systems. 

We are both Kentucky-based Bellwarians, and in the short conversation below, we discuss why Governor Bevin failed to advance education reforms in the state — and what Governor-elect and Democrat Andy Beshear might be able to accomplish given Kentucky’s Republican-dominated legislature. 

Katrina: I think you and I have some diverging ideas and perspectives about politics in general, and even about some education policies. But is it safe to say that we both think Matt Bevin is, well, a bit of a jerk?

Alex: I think we definitely have some common ground there, although I’d be careful about calling him a jerk — he might label you with a nickname like “Kooky Katrina.” More seriously though, I think a big part of his legacy will be the policy wins he left on the table, due in large part to his incredibly abrasive approach to governing.

Katrina: You’re not wrong about that. I was a fan of some of his policy positions, especially much-needed pension reform and increased school choice. If he had a bit more goodwill and emotional intelligence, he might have been able to demonstrate how those policies could actually help teachers and students.

Alex: Yep, but because of his style, pension reform and school choice are likely off the table for the next four years. And while some may be satisfied with the status quo on those issues, there are a lot of teachers and thousands of students who could benefit from reform to teacher pensions and school choice policies. 

Katrina: So where do you think Beshear has the opportunity to move the ball forward on education policy? 

Continue reading

To Address Their Teacher Pension Problems, States Need to Better Understand West Virginia’s History of Reform

Despite its relatively small size, the state of West Virginia has had a significant influence on national politics. Take for example West Virginia’s educators, whose two-week strike in 2018 sparked similar protests across the country.

Yet, stagnant salaries are not the only financial problem facing teachers and states: there is a growing teacher pension crisis.

Here again, West Virginia is at the center of the debate. The state reformed its pension plan in the early 1990s, but by 2005, reverted back to the statewide pension system. The West Virginia experiment is now frequently cited as a cautionary tale when other states attempt to refashion their teacher retirement systems. Critics argue that pension reform simply doesn’t work.

However, that reading of West Virginia’s pension reform is incomplete and based on commonly held myths about pensions and alternative retirement plans. Continue reading