Texas teacher retirement benefits are worse than any other state in the country, except for Louisiana, according to a study conducted on public pension funds.
The lowest ranking states were Louisiana, Texas, and Kentucky, while the states ranking highest were South Carolina, Tennessee, and Oregon.
Last year, 458,000 Texas teacher retirees received pensions from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The system was established in 1937, has 1.4 million public education employee members, and currently has a $201.8 billion dollar fund balance.
Equable, a bipartisan nonprofit that provides public pension education, research, and solutions, conducted the study by analyzing teacher retirement plans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The structure of each state’s plan was compared and ranked by how well it serves retired teachers in three categories:
- Ten years or less of service (short-term teachers)
- Between 10 to 20 years of service (medium-term teachers)
- Entire career in the classroom (full-career teachers)
The TRS plans ranked particularly poorly for teachers in the first two categories, 31.4 percent and 35.4 percent, respectively, out of 100 percent. Texas scored a 67.8 percent in the third category for full-career teachers.
Most states, including Texas, have implemented a tiered plan to reduce costs and shift some of the costs on to educators. By cutting the benefit values for future teachers, states are forcing individuals to find additional ways to save for retirement.
TRS and 13th Checks
Traditional state and private pension funds have struggled to earn high enough returns to pay out benefits promised to retirees. About 80 percent of benefits are backed by dollars in the funds—the other 20 percent is known as unfunded liability. TRS is funded at about 76 percent, slightly below the national average for large pension plans. TRS and other funds had explosive growth in 2021 due to the strength of the stock market and other investments, but that growth has not been replicated this year due to turbulent financial markets.
The lack of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for retirees further lowered the ranking of the Texas retirement plan, according to the study. Retired Texas teachers haven’t received a COLA since 2004. Texas legislatures provided a 13th monthly benefit check to retirees twice, in 2019 and 2021, as a bonus to teacher retirees. These can be seen as a COLA for the two years issued, but retirees expressed this was not nearly enough to combat high inflation.
The simplest solutions to improve retirement benefits is to provide better pay and more robust benefit packages for all teachers regardless of the number of years served. Total rewards, including compensation, health insurance benefits, and retirement benefits are factors individuals consider when deciding on a career and a job.
Earlier this year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott created a task force to review the teacher workforce shortage. With this unprecedented shortage, now seems like the perfect opportunity to provide long-term solutions that provide a livable pension for current retirees, help retain current teachers, and assist in recruiting prospective teachers.
Cheryl Hoover joined HR Services in 2018. She assists with staffing and HR reviews, training, and other HR projects. During Hoover’s public school career, she served as an executive director of curriculum and principal leadership, executive director of human resources, principal, assistant principal, teacher, and coach.
Hoover earned her bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin and obtained her master’s degree from Texas State University. She is a certified PHR.
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