A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

New report indicates retirement security is critical for Commonwealth to hire quality teachers

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Defined benefit pensions are a major factor for recruiting and retaining new teachers in the Commonwealth, and according to new research by the National Institute on Retirement Security, more than 96% of teachers say whittling away pensions would drastically affect the state’s ability to attract new teachers to the profession.

Laura Adams is a fourth-generation teacher in Henry County. She said finding new recruits for open teaching positions at her school has been a challenge.

More than half of teachers say switching out of a pension would make them more likely to leave their job, according to a poll by the National Institute on Retirement Security. (Image from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

“It has just dried up. We just do not have people going into the profession, because they perceive that it’s under attack,” Adams said. “They perceive that their retirement may not be there for them, and so they don’t even want to start. And that is really unfortunate because I have a 6-year-old daughter. I’m truly worried about who is going to teach her when she’s in high school.”

The study also found 74% of teachers in the Commonwealth would be better off in retirement with a defined benefit pension compared with a 401(K).

Brent McKim is president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association. He said the 6,000 teachers he represents are worried about their future and that of their newly hired colleagues.

“They know that that will make a difference in whether or not the newly hired teacher in their building is high-quality or not,” McKim said.

Some studies have indicated that few teachers stay in the profession long enough to qualify for a defined benefit pension. But the National Institute on Retirement Security report found in Kentucky, more than 60% of teachers work in the school system for 20 years or more – long enough to earn their retirement income.

Adams said people outside of the profession may think teachers are getting a handout in the form of a pension. But she said that’s a damaging misconception.

“Of course, I know, and all the other teachers I work with know, we put 13% of our paychecks into the system every month. So, it really is something that we’re vested in,” Adams said. “And I think a lot of politicians have maximized that misconception.”

She added that shifting to a 401(k) plan would likely increase turnover among experienced teachers, and put more pressure on already strained staff.

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