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 from the business world. While DB pensions are the norm for teachers and most other public employees, they are increasingly endangered in the private sector?the proportion of American private-sector workers at medium and large firms with DB plans has shrunk from 80 percent in the
The latest Education Next poll results are packed-full of interesting findings on topics ranging from choice to merit pay, from NCLB to tenure reform. But particularly timely, in this era of fiscal austerity, are new insights about the public's views on school budgets. And guess what: On education, like everything else, Americans don't want to make tough choices. They want to keep taxes low while boosting school spending. Sound familiar?
Let's start with taxes. Question 25a asked: ?Do you think that local taxes to fund public schools around the nation should increase, decrease, or stay about the same?? Sixty-five percent of the public wanted taxes to remain steady or drop. The numbers were a little lower for African Americans, Hispanics, and parents, but not by much. (Half of teachers even expressed this view.) Interestingly, even more people (73 percent of the public) opposed raising local taxes, even if they were to be targeted to local (instead of national) schools.
OK, Americans don't want higher taxes. So they must want school spending to remain flat, right? Wrong. Question 3b queried: ?Do you think that government funding for public schools in your district should increase, decrease, or stay about the same?? Here, 60 percent of the public wanted increased spending on their schools. (Not surprisingly, the numbers were even higher for teachers, parents, and minorities.) Granted, that sentiment softened significantly when respondents were told how much their local districts actually spend?it kicked
The Republican presidential field is beginning to take shape, and candidates and maybe-candidates are figuring out where they stand and what to say. Sooner or later, they will need to say something about education. May we suggest a few talking points? Or, better yet, a potential speech for a GOP candidate?
Folks, you know that our education system is tattered. Some of it is fine, but too much is mediocre or worse. Once the envy of the world, American schools are losing ground to those in Europe and Asia. Today, many countries are out-teaching, out-learning, and out-hustling our schools?????????and doing it for a fraction of the cost.
Meanwhile, failed education systems in our cities worsen the odds that the next generation will climb out of poverty into decent jobs and a shot at the American dream. And as much as many of us prefer not to notice, way too many of our suburban schools are just getting by. They may not be dropout factories, but they're not preparing anywhere near enough of their pupils to revive our economy, strengthen our culture, and lead our future.
Turning this situation around has been the work of education reform for the past two decades. We've spent a lot of money on it. We've had any number of
A few weeks ago, we at Fordham released a short analysis, Shifting Trends in Special Education. We noticed that some states, like Massachusetts and New York, identified almost twice as many students as needing special education as those in other states, like Texas and California. We tried to make sense of these findings but noted that we couldn't find any statistically significant relationship between the demographics of a state and its special ed ID rate. In particular, the poverty rate of a state didn't seem to matter; some poor states have high ID rates, other have low ones, and others are in between. Same with rich states.
Still, I couldn't help but wonder if school spending (adjusted for cost of living) was driving the differences. After all, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to notice that Massachusetts and New York spend a ton of money on their schools and California?similar to them in so many other ways?spends a fraction as much.* Perhaps a sense of scarcity in resource-starved states like California encourages school districts to avoid identifying lots of kids for pricey special education services.
I then asked my friend Marty West, assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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