The state should ensure that excessive resources are not committed to funding teachers' pension systems.
As of June 30, 2015, the most recent date for which an actuarial valuation is available, Oklahoma's pension system for teachers is 66.6 percent funded, an increase of 9.4 percentage points since NCTQ's last report. Its current pension debt exceeds $10,000 per pupil throughout the state. It also has an amortization period of 16 years. This means that if the plan earns its assumed rate of return of 8 percent and makes its full actuarially determined contribution payments, it would take the state 16 years to pay off its unfunded liabilities. While its amortization period meets regulatory benchmarks, Oklahoma's funding level is below the conventionally recommended minimum. Thus, although commended for making contributions that exceed the actuarially required amount, the state's system is not financially sustainable according to actuarial benchmarks.
In addition, Oklahoma commits excessive resources toward its teachers' retirement system. The current employer contribution rate of 17.2 percent is very high, in light of the fact that districts must also contribute 6.2 percent to Social Security. The 17.2 percent is split with the local districts paying 9.3 percent and the state paying about 7.9 percent. While this is rate is intended to allow the state to pay off liabilities, it does so at a high cost, precluding Oklahoma from spending those funds on other, more immediate means to retain talented teachers. The mandatory employee contribution rate to the defined benefit plan of 7 percent is reasonable, although close to what is considered excessive, in light of the fact that teachers must also contribute 6.2 percent to Social Security.
Teachers' Retirement System of Oklahoma, Annual Actuarial Valuation as of June 30, 2015
Ensure that the pension system is financially sustainable.
The state would be better off if its system was over 95 percent funded to allow more protection during financial downturns. Oklahoma, however, should consider ways to improve its funding level without raising the contributions of school districts and teachers. In fact, the state should work to decrease employer contributions. Committing excessive resources to pension benefits can negatively affect teacher recruitment and retention and crowd out funding for other areas in education. Improving funding levels necessitates, in part, systemic changes in the state's pension system. The goals on pension flexibility and pension neutrality provide suggestions for pension system structures that are both sustainable and fair.
Oklahoma declined to respond to NCTQ's analyses.