Are Texas teacher shortages tied to retirement benefits?

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The list of reasons why teachers leave or consider leaving the profession is often a combination of limited career paths, low salaries, stressful working conditions, lack of respect and support and, more recently, political interference in the program. Now add one more.

According to Equable Institute, a nonprofit pension researcher, teachers’ retirement benefits in Texas rank ahead of only Louisiana. This ranking is particularly worrying. The value of teacher pensions is falling everywhere with new K-12 teachers across the country entering pension systems that pay 13% less in benefits than those paid in 2005. And once teachers have 20 years of service, only 6 of 219 teacher pension plans offer sufficient benefits to put their members on the path to retirement income security, Equable concludes.

Nationally, Equable says that translates to $100,000 less in the value of retirement pensions for teachers hired today compared to those hired before 2008. The report did not break out the impact of the dollar in Texas.

No one becomes a teacher to become financially rich. And ironically, Texas has done a lot of good to improve school and academic achievement. Texas has the lowest student-teacher ratio it has ever had, and more teachers are working in Texas now than at any other time in the state’s history, according to the Texas Education Agency.

The number of instructors earning $80,000 or more has doubled in recent years, thanks in part to financial allocations and incentives tied to improving student academic performance. The median salary is over $60,000 as of the 2021-22 school year, according to the TEA.

However, the percentage of students interested in teaching is declining, and alternative certification programs and colleges of education are not filling enough teaching vacancies. As a result, some districts are aggressively offering retention and signing bonuses or other incentives to hire or keep teachers, especially those trained in special education, math, and science.

In today’s world, people change jobs and sometimes careers several times in their lifetime, so expecting new teachers to put in 40 years of service and retire from the classroom is not a realistic goal. Nonetheless, retirement benefits are considerations in private sector recruitment, and Texas may need to improve retirement benefits in order to compete and retain talented teachers who have other employment options.

Earlier this year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott authorized a task force to propose ways to fill teaching vacancies before lawmakers return to Austin next year. Texas must remove the barriers that drive high-quality teachers out of the profession and pursue policies that retain the high-quality teachers that Texas students need and deserve. The market is going to become more competitive, not less, and Texas needs to be competitive.

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