We Didn’t Cause the Pension Problem

your_childs_ed

A lot of finger-pointing is going on in Illinois over the notoriously under-funded pension funds.  Just to set the record straight:

I didn’t go into teaching for the pension.  I don’t know anyone who went into teaching because they were going to get a good pension 37 years later.  We did it because we loved teaching kids.  I’ll bet $100 no kid right out college said, during an interview for their first teaching job, “So, tell me about the pension system.”

I didn’t go into teaching for the money.  I don’t know anyone who went into teaching because they wanted to make a lot of money.  My wife and I moved to Chicago in 1975 because this was the place where I found a teaching job.  I started at $11,500 per year.  I drove a school bus before and after school to help make ends meet.

The constitutional amendment guaranteeing state employee’s pensions went into effect in 1970.  Years before 99.9% of all the current educators began their career.  It wasn’t their idea to guarantee pension benefits – why is it a bad idea to do so now?

All educators paid 8% of what they were being compensated to TRS until 1999.  Then we paid 9% to TRS.  In 2005 we paid 9.4%.  Over the course of my career I paid over $300,000 into the pension system.  Using TRS’s reported investment returns, when I retired in 2012 my pension nest egg should have been about $716,000.  That’s without including any contributions from the state, which were inconsistent and underfunded.  All educators have paid what they owed.  We were not allowed to participate in Social Security.  Unless we put some of our salaries into a 403(b) account, this is all we have.

TRS states that our pension fund has $61.6 billion in unfunded liabilities – two-thirds of which is attributable to the state not paying what was needed to keep the pension fund solvent.

I get defensive when the media or people around me point their finger at teachers and accuse us of doing something dastardly.  We found a job that we loved.  We worked hard.  We paid our (TRS) dues each and every paycheck.  We worked under the assumption that the Illinois constitution protected our pension.  Why are we always cast as the bad guys?

Advertisements

Chicago Tribune Doesn’t Get It

Graphic courtesy of http://www.hikingartist.com

The editorial in the May 4, 2015 Chicago Tribune was titled, “Backsliding on school choice*.”  The opening paragraphs:

Across the country, many states are pushing aggressively to expand educational opportunities for students trapped in low-performing schools.

You’ll hear about state-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools, education savings accounts that help parents pay some school expenses; tax breaks for parents for private-school tuition and expenses, even credits that allow companies to direct part of their state taxes to nonprofits that provide student scholarships.

There’s strong momentum to expand school choice: Some 39 states are mulling laws to give students more alternatives to neighborhood schools, up from 29 states last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What’s the problem?  We’re not pushing charter schools enough for them.  We’re getting behind other states.  “Don’t let the nation outpace us,” they cry.   Here’s the evidence – The Illinois House voted 60-40 to disband the Illinois State Charter School Commission.  In Illinois a charter school operator has to get permission from the local school district they want to open a school in.  If rejected, the charter school can go to the Charter School Commission to overturn the local school board’s wishes.  The Tribune says the commission is a “venue of last resort” for charter school operators.  Let’s see – the democratically elected school board says “no” to a charter school, then the charter school gets an expensive lawyer and appeals to people on a commission who don’t know anything about the school district, thereby skirting democracy.  It is interesting to note in the online version of the article there is a link to another editorial, “Make democracy work for Chicago Schools.”  Make up your mind – do you want democratically controlled schools or not?

The editorial does point out some of the charter school failures – the United Neighborhood Organization charter network* in particular. It even states, “Some of Chicago’s charters have a poor performance record – and they should close.”  So they recognize that charter schools can fail – that’s OK, just close the schools and send the kids somewhere else.

The Tribune doesn’t get it.  Charter schools are not the solution – see the report from the National Education Policy Center.  Allowing charter schools to operate where local school districts don’t want them removes local control.  The people in the district would no longer have a say in what their children are learning – the charter school management team would.

* You may have to register with your email to read these articles on the Tribune website