School Finance

Despite doomsday projections of huge layoffs as a result of the "new normal" of lower or flat education funding, NCTQ found in a recent survey that layoffs in large urban districts were modest ? 2.5 percent on average ? and only affected roughly half of surveyed cities.

The story of how cities avoided layoffs is interesting. More districts cut class time or school days than cut or reduced workers' benefits. Most simply reduced head count through attrition. These data could bolster the case of reformers like Scott Walker who argue that state policy should tackle runaway growth in benefits because school boards and administrators will not. Clearly only a tiny minority of districts were willing to touch these areas of their budget.

Some districts were much harder hit than the average, however, including our hometown of Dayton, OH. No doubt our Ohio team will comment on the particulars of the case there. Overall, however, NCTQ's survey suggests that many cities have found a way around massive layoffs and the Obama administration's dire predictions of huge job losses in education going forward may not be justified.

? Chris Tessone...

In a new AEI/Heritage paper that is sure to create some buzz, Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine say yes, teachers are overpaid relative to similar workers based on several different metrics. The most interesting result in the paper for me was this table, illustrating that teachers take a pay cut of roughly 3% when they leave the profession, while new entrants actually see a raise of almost 9% compared to their previous non-teaching job:

As the authors point out, this result is not consistent with teachers being "desperately underpaid," in Education Secretary Arne Duncan's words.

We need to take the conversation on teacher pay beyond averages, however. As we and others have noted before, younger teachers are under-compensated for the dramatic increases in effectiveness they realize in their first few years of teaching. We also ignore the alternatives certain teachers have in the labor market, paying PE teachers (who have few job options in the private sector) much more than physics and math teachers.

If we want to spend every education dollar effectively, we have to move beyond one-size-fits-all strategies and focus on...

California's Jerry Brown is getting ready to propose what the AP calls "sweeping rollbacks" in public-sector pensions, raising the retirement age for non-public safety employees to 67, ending abuses like spiking and "air time," and mandating a hybrid system that has a traditional pension component and an added 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan.

Based on the Sacramento Bee's description of the plan, the change to a hybrid plan is far less radical than it needs to be to improve mobility of benefits for young workers (teachers included). The new system would still provide 2/3 of projected retirement income out of a defined-benefit plan workers would only earn after a full, multi-decade career in public service. It's also hard not to wonder how deeply Gov. Brown believes in this plan, since he pitched a much less serious reform in the spring that failed due to Republican opposition.

It's a better start to the reform process in California than that earlier plan, however. If Brown sticks to his guns against his union backers and gets these reforms through the legislature, it would be a positive first step in fixing the state's broken system of public employee compensation. Our latest report,...

This analysis by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute finds that more than 1.7 million American children attend what we've dubbed "private public schools"—public schools that serve virtually no poor students.* In some metropolitan areas, as many as one in six public-school students—and one in four white youngsters—attends such schools, of which the U.S. has about 2,800. Read on to see whether there's one in your neighborhood.

* It has come to our attention that South Dakota reported inaccurate free-and-reduced-price-lunch data to the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data, impacting our results for the Mt. Rushmore State.

Press release

"Private public schools" broken down by metro area

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NATIONWIDE

Atlanta

Baltimore

Boston

Chicago

Cincinnati

Dallas

Denver

Detroit

This is the second in a series of blog posts introducing Fordham's latest report, Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century.

So where should leaders and policymakers go for examples of how to fix teacher pensions? And what exactly does successful pension reform look like? It turns out that some of the most instructive examples don't involve K-12 education at all, as author Michael B. Lafferty looks to the likes of IBM, the federal government, and the University of Missouri for answers.

The feds lead the way. While 80 percent of state and local workers participate in defined-benefit (DB) retirement plans, the largest government in America shifted away from the DB model a quarter century ago. During the Reagan years, the feds began enrolling all new hires in plans that combined the DB and defined-contribution (DC) models, while allowing existing employees to transfer as well. Not always known for its forward-thinking, the federal government actually offers an early blueprint for public-sector pension reform and a primer on making the most of a bleak fiscal situation to drive needed change.

IBM: Lessons...

When it comes to public-sector pensions, writes lead author Michael B. Lafferty in this report, “A major public-policy (and public-finance) problem has been defined and measured, debated and deliberated, but not yet solved. Except where it has been.” As recounted in Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century, these exceptions turn out to be revealing—and encouraging. As leaders around the country struggle to overhaul America’s controversial and precarious public-sector pensions, this study draws on examples from diverse fields to provide a primer on successful pension reform. Download to find valuable lessons for policymakers, workers, and taxpayers looking for timely solutions to a dire problem.

Younger teachers in Illinois, whose pensions were slashed last year by the legislature, should start asking whose benefits they're really paying for. The new Tier 2 pension only costs about 5 percent of salary...yet teachers are paying 9.4% of their salaries into the Teacher Retirement System. This takes the usual shell game of wealth transfers from younger and more mobile teachers to retirees to a whole new level: theft.

My hometown newspaper, the Southern Illinoisan, is running a story that explains who benefits the most richly from the old Tier 1 pension: union functionaries who stopped teaching decades before retirement but still receive a state-funded pension:

Then there is Kenneth Drum. TRS pays Drum more than $160,000 a year, despite Drum only working for 12 years as a teacher.

Drum's large pension comes not from his time in the classroom, but rather because of a 20-year career at IFT. Drum has collected more than $2 million from TRS since retiring in 1994, and is one of 21 former NEA, IEA, IFT or IASB employees who has collected more than $1 million from the TRS since retiring.

Comerford said he couldn't speak for individuals as to

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Teacher pension systems around the country are falling into crisis due to poor investment returns, unfunded increases in benefits, and poor governance and management. The PIE Network just made thirteen great policy briefs available on how to advance education reform in the "new normal" of fiscal crisis in America's schools, and among them is a paper I wrote on the teacher retirement crisis.

I commend the full paper to your attention, but here are the key takeaways:

  • Traditional pension systems are bad for many teachers and aren't structured to attract the best young workers.
  • Retiree health care, which is free for many retired teachers, is a major contributor to cost growth in retirement benefits.
  • The time for reform is now. There are lots of good examples of pension reform in the public and private sector that school districts and states can draw on. Fordham has an upcoming publication profiling several such cases.

My colleague Raegen Miller at the Center for American Progress also released a paper on this subject recently that is well worth reading.

Pensions can be a very technical subject, but they're also soaking up growing chunks of school funding. It's...

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