Pennsylvania’s teacher pension system scores D plus, National Council on Teacher Quality says
Young teachers just joining the Pennsylvania education system may not see much bang for their pension buck, according to a report issued Tuesday.
Pennsylvania’s teacher pension system carries the third highest unfunded liability in the country, findings from the National Council on Teacher Quality show. Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the nation if that $32.6 billion liability is apportioned per student.
“There’s this perception that teacher salaries are low because they have these great benefits, but that isn’t always true,” said Sandi Jacobs, the report’s author and NCTQ vice president. “In most states, Pennsylvania included, the financial health is questionable at best.”
The nonpartisan group’s study gave Pennsylvania a letter grade of D+, just below the national average of C-, and examined not only unfunded liabilities, but also vesting periods, contribution rates and flexibility to move from state to state.
“It’s kind of surprising we got that good of a grade,” said Nate Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the conservative Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation. “With their take on what makes up good policy, and by those measures, Pennsylvania isn’t in good shape.”
Evelyn Tatkovski Williams, press secretary for the Public School Employees’ Retirement System, said PSERS is aware of the annual survey, and called the issues in it “very subjective in nature.”
Mobility was a major focus of the analysis.
Pennsylvania teachers employed before 2010 were required to fulfill a five-year vesting period — the time it takes to start accruing long-term benefits. That has since been extended to 10 years.
The odds of Pennsylvania’s newest educators collecting earned benefits the way their predecessors have goes down every year, Jacobs said.
“It’s totally common today for teachers to recognize their own mobility,” she said. “We hear it all the time. ‘I don’t know if I’ll be in this state my whole career. I don’t even know if I’ll be a teacher my whole career.’ For those just getting started, it’s increasingly unlikely you’ll be there long enough to collect. Where’s the incentive in that?”
The report found that in 2014, all but three states made teachers wait more than three years to vest in retirement plans. Fifteen states — Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington — had vesting periods of 10 years, up from nine states five years ago.
National Council on Teacher Quality is funded in part by the John and Laura Arnold Foundation.
Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.