Teaching is an honorable and rewarding profession, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, 44% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Being an educator means grueling hours preparing lesson plans, rapidly changing technology, and summer breaks without pay, all in an increasingly tense environment. Teaching has always been a challenging job, but today, hyperbolic rhetoric and viral conspiracy theories are making it more difficult than ever to be an educator. 

Now critics are spreading more misinformation, blaming teachers– and specifically their pensions–for the rising cost of education! 

Here’s the issue with that notion

This falsity pits schools, teachers, and pensions against each other and creates a sky-is-falling, fear-based narrative that threatens educators’ ability to retire securely after years of dedication and service and threatens the future of public education itself.

In 2017, we covered unfunded liabilities in our “Pension Crisis is a Myth” series. Critics and anti-pension advocates love throwing around “unfunded liabilities” to satisfy their political agendas. A large public pension plan covers tens of thousands of active public employees and retirees. These plans have large liabilities because they are obligated to manage the retirement benefits of these thousands of employees and retirees over decades.

When there is a difference between the total amount of benefits owed to employees and retirees and the current value of the financial assets the pension plan manages, then there is an unfunded liability. This is to be expected and means that at a specific moment in time, the pension plan does not have the full amount of money to pay out all of the retirement benefits it will owe in the future to ALL of its current and former employees. But the system never needs all that money at one time because every employee does not retire at the same time 

I’m not pointing fingers, you are!

Defined-benefit pensions are not given, they’re earned, and teachers do their part by contributing with each and every paycheck. However, lawmakers in various states and local governments don’t always hold up their end of the bargain—repeatedly skipping, deferring, or only partially paying into pension funds. Funding discipline is crucial to the well-being of pension plans, and lawmakers should keep their promise.

Public school educators deserve more respect. Instead of attacks, lawmakers should find better ways to support them and their efforts–one way to do this is by at least providing them the secure retirement they were promised and deserve, not finding ways to strip them of it. Teachers have dedicated their lives to building up and educating the next generation–and they do it humbly and, sometimes, without a thank you. Pensions are a great way to say thank you.

Opponents of public education, government workers, and defined benefit pensions want us to fight over what they say is a shrinking budget pie chart. Instead of pitting districts, teachers, and pensions against one another – and forcing each to fight over budget crumbs – policy leaders should prioritize the educational future of our young people and expand the pie. For everyone.