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'Gold Plated' Teacher Pensions

It's not enough that teachers are overpaid for the number of days they teach.  They also receive lavish pensions on top of that ("Are teacher pensions really that high?" brookings.edu, Sep. 29).  At least, that's the usual narrative.  Since I've recently addressed the first myth, I'll confine my comments to the second one.

The truth is that in 35 states teacher pensions are lower than the national average of $33,281 for all college-educated employees. Moreover, public school teachers often have to wait three times as long as private sector employees before they're eligible for any payouts ("Why Teachers Aren't Getting Their Pensions," The Atlantic, Sep. 16, 2015). As a result of this vesting period, many teachers leave the field with no benefits at all, or with sharply reduced ones. 

The way teacher pensions are structured is another issue.  Starting salaries and increases in the early years are low.  It's only decades later that things improve ("Why Teacher Pensions Don't Work," The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 10, 2011).  That's fine for teachers who want to spend their entire working days in the classroom. But there are other teachers who would prefer higher starting salaries in exchange for lower pensions because they don't intend to make teaching their lifelong career.  Defined-contribution plans would be better suited for them. 

But what always amazes me in the debate over salaries and pensions is the implication that teaching is a plum. If that were so, then why aren't more college graduates rushing to make the classroom their career?  Isn't that how a free marketplace is supposed to work?

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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