Teacher Pension Systems Are Incompatible with Efforts to Improve the Teaching Profession

Chalkbeat Colorado has an excellent rundown of what’s happening under Colorado’s revamped teacher evaluation law. After two consecutive years of ineffective ratings, tenured teachers (called “non-probationary” in Colorado) lose their tenured status and revert to one-year contracts. The law passed in 2010, but this is the first year any consequences apply. According to Chalkbeat, Denver has 47 teachers, about 2 percent of its workforce, who will lose tenure this year. Among them are 10 teachers with more than 20 years of experience, and another 18 with 15-20 years of experience.

ednext-july2016-blog-ototn-pensions-coFrom most angles, this is a good thing. The system had a long roll-out period, and now Colorado schools are finally starting to act as if teacher quality matters. It uses two years of information before making any decisions, and it defers to districts and individual teachers to make the ultimate decisions (the teachers aren’t necessarily fired, they just lose their tenured status).

But from a retirement perspective, this puts teachers further at risk, and Colorado already has a risky retirement system. Although the state has very high teacher turnover, Colorado’s pension formula really only delivers adequate retirement benefits to teachers who stay for 25, 30, or 35 years. Anyone who leaves before then is left without much in the way of retirement benefits, and would have been better off in a different type of retirement plan.

Colorado has already done the right thing in making the teaching profession at least somewhat contingent on performance. The state should create a retirement system that matches that expectation. Teaching is a difficult profession, and not everyone can do it well, or wants to do it for an entire lifetime. But everyone deserves a secure retirement, and states shouldn’t keep retirement plans that assume all teachers can or want to remain teaching for 25 or 30 years.

I could go on, but we’ve written a whole report on Colorado’s teacher pension plan. Read pages 14-18 for some ideas on ways Colorado could modernize its retirement system to match its expectations for teachers.

—Chad Aldeman

This post originally appeared on TeacherPensions.org

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