For many, latest pension legislation will be last straw
May 23, 2017 — The latest attempt by legislative leaders to destroy the school employee pension system adds to a long list of attacks on wages, benefits, collective bargaining rights and even the dignity of the teaching profession – attacks that are taking a toll.
“The number of teachers leaving the profession is at an all-time high, and shortages in various content areas and regions of the state already are reaching critical mass. Continuing to attack the livelihood and retirement security of school employees will only make that problem worse,” said MEA President Steven Cook in response to today’s introduction of SB 401 and HB 4647, which would close the school employee pension system to all new hires at an enormous cost to Michigan taxpayers.
Last fall, Sam Schweihofer left the profession he loved after seven years as a St. Clair County special education teacher – a critical teaching shortage area across the country. Continued pension threats from politicians and billionaire business leaders became the deal-breaker for him, he said.
Schweihofer endured several years of pay freezes, coaching year-round and working a second job in the summers to make ends meet. But when his first child was born, he realized he couldn’t depend on teaching to provide a secure future for his family.
“When you have a family, and you start worrying about more than yourself, it’s an eye-opener,” Schweihofer said. “I have to make sure my daughter’s future is what we want it to be.”
Schweihofer now holds an entry-level job at a mortgage company where he makes higher pay than he did in his seventh year of teaching with a Master’s degree. He and his wife, a kindergarten teacher – worry about the future of public education for their one-year-old daughter.
“We are not only losing thousands of outstanding young educators like Sam, we are losing talented prospective educators who choose not to go into teaching when they see attack upon attack waged against school employees,” Cook said, noting that enrollment at colleges of education is down nearly 40 percent across the state.
The move to eliminate pensions for new school employees will not only drive great current and prospective school employees from the profession, but it has the potential to bankrupt the state.
Several non-partisan economic analyses have shown the scheme will require exorbitant up-front costs — over $500 million in the first year alone and in excess of $20 billion over the next 30 years. Bill sponsors have announced their plans to use School Aid Fund (SAF) dollars to pay for the first year’s installment on closing the pension plan.
“Money in the SAF is supposed to be invested in the education of our students – something already woefully underfunded. Taking those dollars from students to harm teachers and support professionals is shameful,” Cook said. “If there’s additional SAF dollars available, they should be added to the per-pupil payments to school districts, not poured into the latest Lansing ideological shell game.”
Recently, two significant studies – the Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission report and the Michigan Education Finance study commissioned by the Legislature – provided detailed data and evidence that Michigan public schools are significantly underfunded.
“Our state has many pressing needs, foremost among them repairing our decaying roads and addressing our underfunded schools,” Cook said. “If Lansing politicians have an extra half-billion tax dollars to spend next year, they should ask their constituents: ‘Should we spend it destroying teacher pensions or funding our state’s roads and schools?’”
Contact: Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs, 517-337-5508