Civil Discourse Prompts
Are teachers fairly compensated?
Are there structural problems like pension deficits that need to be addressed first?
If teacher compensation reflects an impoverished community can that community draw the best teachers?

Aldeman and Rhee each believe their preferred approach is in the best interest of America’s teachers. With teacher retirement plans across the U.S. carrying more than half a trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities, this is a timely conversation — one that is sure to play out on the national stage and in state capitals for years to come.

Chad Aldeman Senior Associate Partner
Bellwhether Education Partners

Chad Aldeman is a senior associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit focused on dramatically changing education and life outcomes for underserved children. At Bellwether, Chad writes about teacher preparation, teacher evaluation, and college and career readiness. He also serves as the editor for

Nari Rhee Director
UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education

Nari Rhee, Ph.D., is director of the Retirement Security Program at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. Dr. Rhee has written on a wide range of issues related to pensions and retirement security, including the retirement savings crisis, public pension reform and retirement plan design. Her current research focuses on policies to improve the retirement income prospects of low-wage workers and teacher pensions.

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her option would be to give teachers a say over their retirement. In nearly every state, employees at public colleges and universities have a choice between a traditional pension or a 401(k)-style plan. These public sector 401(k) plans look very different than what’s typically offered in the private sector — the plans offered to higher ed faculty plans are much more generous. There’s no reason states couldn’t give K-12 teachers the same options.

I am very interested in giving teachers more choice between a traditional pension or a 401K plan. If nothing else it could be helpful to run a pilot program or a longitudinal to track what percentage of teachers choose each plan and see how that plays out over time.

The rational solution is to enhance their pension benefits, as Colorado has done at minimal cost, not to replace them with plans that make most teachers considerably worse off.

There are a variety of perspectives offered throughout this conversation. I am convinced that pensions do remain a significant guarantor of teacher retention. After reading through the research findings presented here, I still am skeptical why more states have not replicated Colorado's model, if it truly does exemplify all the critical ingredients of a comprehensive teacher payment plan. However, it is encouraging to see how this state has found an ideal balance that can withstand partisan turf fights, which will continue to be a major factor in pension reform.

Several states, including West Virginia and Michigan, have learned that switching plans is no substitute for responsible funding policy. Most states have wisely chosen to adjust benefit levels and increase employee cost-sharing instead.

Responsible funding should always be the policy anyway, anywhere. In light of education's existing problems, it seems to be in the states' best interest to not rock the boat any further by removing teacher pensions.

Our analysis clearly shows that a majority of teachers currently covered by statewide public pensions will serve out a long career in the same state and are far better off with their existing pension than an alternative plan

Pension plans offer stability and long-term perspective for any career, not just teaching. It is reasonable to assume that an individual will stick with a profession in order to reach retirement age, especially after getting through difficult or challenging times early on. However, pension plans need to be carefully monitored and managed in order to retain solvency, something that is not currently happening in many areas.

Finally, policymakers should beware that closing a pension can exacerbate any existing funding problems and increase costs

Policymakers must be cognizant of closing a pension to carry out responsible policy in regards to this issue. In order to keep students at the forefront of the education reform movement, we must prioritize teacher needs.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. The debts must be paid to current and future retirees,

I feel like this is one of those issues that really requires teacher buy-in for it to work. We have talked a lot about how teachers and teachers' unions have a lot of power when it comes to education reform, so how will policy makers go about getting the teachers to agree to a change in pensions?

However, the empirical research suggests that teachers are more likely to base their employment decisions on factors like base pay, family or other working conditions

I think that there are starting to be some generational changes to these factors related to working conditions. An article by Finances Online discussed how this younger generation of workers is starting to value benefits packages and more attractive pay. I think that teachers will also be included in these types of needs for better retention.

The evidence is clear: Teachers and schools are far better off with pensions.

It is essential to have financial security after one retires, and we must continue to have that option of stability for our teachers.