Pension Sustainability: District of Columbia

2011 Retaining Effective Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that excessive resources are not committed to funding teachers' pension systems.

Meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Pension Sustainability: District of Columbia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/DC-Pension-Sustainability-9

Analysis of District of Columbia's policies

As of October 1, 2010, the most recent date for which an actuarial valuation is available, the District of Columbia's teacher pension system is 118.27 percent funded and has an amortization period of zero. This means that the District does not currently have any unfunded liabilities to pay off. Both levels are better than regulatory recommendations, and the District's system is financially sustainable according to actuarial benchmarks.

The District does not commit excessive resources toward its teachers' retirement system. The mandatory employee contribution rate to the defined benefit plan is 8 percent, and the current employer contribution rate is zero. While both of these rates are reasonable, the employer rate is extremely low relative to what other states are contributing to their pension plans and Social Security. The District did make an annual lump sum payment of $2,982,835 to correct for member contribution shortfalls, and it has contributed as a percentage of payroll in previous years when determined necessary by actuarial valuations.

Citation

Recommendations for District of Columbia

Contribute meaningfully to teachers' pension plans.
The District is commended for providing a financially sustainable system without committing excessive resources. However, the District should share part of the burden of funding the system by contributing along with teachers.

State response to our analysis

The District of Columbia Retirement Board did not respond to repeated requests to review NCTQ's analyses related to teacher pensions.

How we graded

Many states' pension systems are based on promises they cannot afford to keep.

Teacher salaries are just one part of the compensation package that teachers receive. Virtually all teachers are also entitled to a pension, which, upon vesting, provides compensation for the rest of their lives after retirement. In an era when retirement benefits have been shrinking across industries and professions, teachers' generous pensions remain fixed. In fact, nearly all states continue to provide teachers with a defined-benefit pension system, an expensive and inflexible model that neither reflects the realities of the modern workforce nor provides equitable benefits to all teachers.

Under defined benefit systems, states have made an obligation to fund fixed benefits for teachers at retirement. However, the financial health and sustainability of many states' systems are questionable at best. Some systems carry high levels of unfunded liabilities, with no strategy to pay these liabilities down in a reasonable period, as defined by standard accounting practices. Without reform, these systems are a house of cards, vulnerable to collapse as funding cannot keep up with promised benefits. And it is taxpayers who will have to pay if it all tumbles down.

Pension plans disadvantage teachers early in their careers by overcommitting employer resources to retirement benefits.

The contribution of employers to their workers' retirement benefits is a valuable benefit, important to ensuring that individuals have sufficient retirement savings. Compensation resources, however, are not unlimited, and they must fund both current salaries and future retirement benefits. Mandated employer contributions to many states' teacher pension systems are extremely high, leaving districts with little flexibility to be more innovative with their compensation strategies. This is further exacerbated for states in which teachers also participate in Social Security, requiring the district to pay even more toward teacher retirement. While retirement savings in addition to Social Security are necessary, states are mandating contributions to two inflexible plans rather than permitting options for teachers or their employing districts.

This approach to compensation disadvantages teachers early in their careers, as the commitment of resources to retirement benefits almost certainly depresses salaries and prevents incentives. Lower mandatory employer contribution rates (in states where they are too high; in some states they are shamefully low) would free up compensation resources to implement the kinds of strategies suggested elsewhere in the Yearbook. In addition, some states require high employee contributions; the impact this has on teachers' paychecks may affect retention, especially early in teachers' careers.

Research rationale

NCTQ's analysis of the financial sustainability of state pension system is based on actuarial benchmarks promulgated by government and private accounting standards boards. For more information see U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2007, 30 and Government Accounting Standards Board Statement No. 25.

For an overview of the current state of teacher pensions, the various incentives they create, and suggested solutions, see Robert Costrell and Michael Podgursky. "Reforming K-12 Educator Pensions: A Labor Market Perspective." TIAA-CREF Institute (2011).

For evidence that retirement incentives do have a statistically significant effect on retirement decisions, see Joshua Furgeson, Robert P. Strauss, and William B. Vogt. "The Effects of Defined Benefit Pension Incentives and Working Conditions on Teacher Retirement Decisions", Education Finance and Policy (Summer, 2006).

For examples of how teacher pension systems inhibit teacher mobility, see Robert Costrell and Michael Podgursky, "Golden Handcuffs," Education Next, (Winter, 2010).

For additional information on state pension systems, see Susanna Loeb, and Luke Miller. "State Teacher Policies: What Are They, What Are Their Effects, and What Are Their Implications for School Finance?" Stanford University: Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice (2006); and Janet Hansen, "Teacher Pensions: A Background Paper", published through the Committee for Economic Development (May, 2008).

For further evidence supporting NCTQ's teacher pension standards, see "Public Employees' Retirement System of the State of Nevada: Analysis and Comparison of Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution Retirement Plans." The Segal Group (2010).