Pension Sustainability: South Carolina

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: South Carolina results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of South Carolina's policies

As of June 30, 2009, the most recent date for which an actuarial valuation is available, South Carolina's defined benefit pension system for teachers is 67.8 percent funded and has a 30-year amortization period, provided planned employer contribution increases are implemented. This means that if the plan earns its assumed rate of return and maintains current contribution rate plans, it would take the state 30 years to pay off its unfunded liabilities. While its amortization period meets regulatory benchmarks, South Carolina's funding level is too low. The state's system is not financially sustainable according to actuarial benchmarks. South Carolina's defined contribution plan is fully funded and sustainable. Employers make mandatory payments credited to employees' individual accounts.

In addition, South Carolina commits excessive resources toward its teachers' retirement system. The current employer contribution rate of 9.24 percent is too high, in light of the fact that districts must also contribute 6.2 percent to Social Security. This rate is set by the South Carolina Budget and Control Board. While this rate allows the state to pay off liabilities within the required 30-year period, it does so at great cost, precluding South Carolina from spending those funds on other, more immediate means to retain talented teachers. The mandatory employee contribution rate to the defined benefit plan of 6.5 percent is reasonable. This rate is set by the state legislature.

The employer contribution to the defined contribution system is a reasonable 5 percent. Employers still must make a 9.24 contribution for all of their employees, but for defined contribution participants only 5 percent is allocated to employees' accounts and most of the remainder is for the unfunded liabilities of the defined benefit system. A reasonably small percentage (0.15 percent) funds the death benefit coverage run by the retirement system.


Recommendations for South Carolina

Ensure that the pension system is financially sustainable.
The state would be better off if its entire system was over 95 percent funded to allow more protection during financial downturns. However, South Carolina should consider ways to improve its funding level without raising the contributions of school districts and teachers. Committing excessive resources to pension benefits can negatively affect teacher recruitment and retention. Improving funding levels necessitates, in part, systemic changes in the state's pension system. Goals 4-G and 4-I provide suggestions for pension system structures that are both sustainable and fair.

State response to our analysis

South Carolina 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).