August not only means back-to-school time for children across America but also for the essential employees that make our public school systems run. Faculty and staff are invaluable to our education system, and in the complicated aftermath of Covid-19, schools are struggling to stay fully staffed. There are many reasons behind the teacher exodus in this country, but there is one sure-fire way to attract and retain educators: defined-benefit pensions.
While there is no national database that tracks the status of teacher staffing vacancies, the National Education Association estimates there are over 300,000 vacancies currently in America. Reports of shortages from across the country have been coming at a steady pace, and states are scrambling to fill openings. In Texas, some rural schools are switching to four-day school weeks to ease staffing issues. Florida is offering teaching jobs and temporary certification to military veterans. Arizona lifted college degree requirements to allow students enrolled in education courses to be at the helm in classrooms.
Drivers behind the staffing shortage vary, from lack of professional support to poor working conditions, but it all comes down to pay and benefits. The pipeline of students enrolled in education courses has fallen over 35% in the last decade, and for good reason–students are expected to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt for high-stress jobs with starting annual salaries as low as $30k. Combine low salaries with the fact that some states have closed or reformed their defined-benefit pension systems and the fact that only a handful of states allow teachers to opt-in to Social Security benefits, and it’s a dismal financial outlook for incoming educators.
Earlier this year, the National Institute for Retirement Security (NIRS) released a survey finding that 86% of Americans believe that teachers deserve public pensions. The report also states that 58% of educators would leave their jobs if their defined-benefit pensions were switched to a 401(k). Pensions, along with improved compensation and healthcare, are what teachers need to remain in the workforce. People who choose careers of service dedicated to the well-being and education of the American public deserve to retire with dignity.