Pension Sustainability: Michigan

Retaining Effective Teachers Policy


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

Meets a small part of goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Pension Sustainability: Michigan results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Michigan's policies

As of September 30, 2009, the most recent date for which an actuarial valuation is available, Michigan's defined benefit pension system for teachers is 78.9 percent funded and has a 27-year amortization period. This means that if the plan earns its assumed rate of return and maintains current contribution rates, it would take the state 27 years to pay off its unfunded liabilities. While its amortization period meets regulatory benchmarks, Michigan's funding level is just below the conventionally recommended minimum funding level of 80 percent. The state's system is just short of being financially sustainable according to actuarial benchmarks.

However, Michigan commits excessive resources toward its teachers' defined benefit retirement system. The current employer contribution rate to the defined benefit plan of 10.1 percent is too high, in light of the fact that local districts must also contribute 6.2 percent to Social Security. Participating employers are required to contribute at an actuarially determined rate. While this rate allows the state to pay off liabilities within 27 years, it does so at great cost, precluding Michigan from spending those funds on other, more immediate means to retain talented teachers. The mandatory employee contribution rate to the defined benefit plan of 3 percent on income up to $5,000, 3.6 percent on the next $10,000 of income, and 6.4 percent on all compensation above $15,000 is reasonable.

Michigan closed its defined benefit system to new members as of June 30, 2010. All teachers hired on or after July 1, 2010 are entered into the new hybrid system with a defined benefit component (which has the same benefit multiplier as the closed defined benefit system) and a small defined contribution component. Funding levels and employer contribution rates to the defined benefit component are not yet reported. Unfortunately, teachers now must commit excessive resources to the defined benefit component. 

The mandatory employee rate to the defined benefit component of "about" 9.4 percent is too high, in light of the fact that teachers must also contribute 6.2 percent to Social Security. Additionally, this may leave teachers with very little flexible income to contribute to the optional defined contribution component. Employees are automatically enrolled to contribute 2 percent of salary; however, they may elect to increase or decrease this amount. Employers contribute a 50 percent match up to a total of 1 percent.


Recommendations for Michigan

Ensure that the pension system is financially sustainable.
While the state is commended for closing its financially unsustainable defined benefit system, the remaining members and unfunded liability still place a burden on local districts. The state would be better off if its system was over 95 percent funded. However, Michigan should consider ways to improve its funding level without raising the contributions of school districts. In fact, the state should work to decrease employer contributions. Committing excessive resources to pension benefits can negatively affect teacher recruitment and retention. In addition, Michigan should ensure that its new system is financially sustainable without demanding excessive contributions from its teachers.  

State response to our analysis

Michigan recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

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).