Public school staff shortages continue to be a significant issue across the country, and Americans agree enough is not being done to retain teachers. While this problem existed before the Covid-19 pandemic, its economic impact and other pre-existing workforce issues have affected public employment nationwide. The education workforce was already facing issues with retention, but Covid-19 caused widespread employee burn-out, contributing to the Great Resignation. A survey conducted by Greenwald Research showed that most Americans agree on one thing–teachers deserve better. The National Institute of Retirement Security (NIRS) compiled all of the findings into a report entitled, Americans’ Views of Public School Teachers and Personnel in the Wake of Covid-19.

The report’s key findings include:

Americans are concerned about teachers and public school employees.

The survey found that 83% of Americans are worried about teacher and public school staff shortages. Prior to the pandemic, the Learning Policy Institute conducted a study in 2016 that estimated that teacher shortages would reach 110,000 annually by 2017-2018. This shortage is caused by two factors. First, college enrollment in education is at its lowest in 45 years, with only 4.2% of students choosing education as their major. Second, the number of teachers leaving greatly outweighs the number of newcomers coming to replace them. Teachers have been some of the most affected by the pandemic, having to work from home, reinvent their teaching style, and ensure their students are understanding valuable material outside of the classroom setting. Fifty-two percent of teachers reported burn-out due to the pandemic, while 50% of teachers say they don’t feel that they’re being compensated enough for the working conditions that they’ve had to endure during Covid-19. 

Teachers deserve better pay and benefits.

The Learning Policy Institute also found that increasing teacher compensation, and improving their preparation, professional support, and working conditions are the most effective way to recruit and retain educators and public school staff. Teachers are paid significantly less compared to their college-educated peers, causing students to rule out education as an option when deciding on their major. Student debt is also a major factor when considering a career in public education. Since teachers don’t make as much money as they would in the private sector, it makes it difficult to pay their student loans, while also contributing to an emergency savings, and a retirement fund–59% of educators say this is the case for them. Student loans also disportionately plague Black educators compared to other racial/ethinic groups. Eighty-nine percent of Americans said a less confusing loan forgiveness application process, along with better healthcare benefits should be provided for teachers. Eighty-six percent of participants believe that a “more generous” pension would help recruit and retain teachers, and 92% say better pay would also be a great solution. 

Americans believe that healthcare and other benefits that help retain and recruit K-12 educators should be funded and protected.

Pension plans have been provided for state and local employees since the 19th century. Today, 86% of state and local employees still have access to a defined-benefit pension plan, while 38% have access to defined-contribution style retirement plans like 401(k)s. Because state and local workers typically make less than their private-sector counterparts, a pension helps supplement that pay gap in the long term. Fifty-eight percent of state and local employees said that switching to a 401(k) would likely cause them to leave their job, and 73% said cutting their pension would cause them to leave their job, with 79% also stating that they would leave their job if health benefits were cut. Alaska is a great example of the devastating effects cutting a pension can have. The state suffered greatly and struggled to recruit and retain teachers after closing its pension systems, the Teacher Retirement System and the Public Employee Retirement System, in 2005. 

Public employees contribute to their pensions every paycheck. Ninety percent of survey participants agree that teachers should have a pension so that they can have a secure retirement. Americans agree that pension benefits, as well as healthcare should be funded and provided for teachers as they were promised. Providing top-quality education is only possible with the retention and recruitment of public school teachers. Defined-benefit pension plans  should not be considered a luxury, but a right for public employees who provide those critical services, including educating future generations.