Empty classroom
Michael Q. McShane

In the two-bit morality play that is pension reform in Missouri, my colleagues and I are frequently cast as the villains.

Whether it is the Missouri Retired Teachers Association, MNEA-retired, or the director of The Public School Retirement System, breathless commentary argues over and over that we have some desire to destroy teachers’ pensions. 

I don’t take this personally. As Jay-Z says in classic song December 4th, “This is the life I chose, not the life that chose me.” But teachers in Missouri probably should. The stability of their retirement depends on it.

And that brings us to a recent article written by Chad Aldeman and Kelly Robson of Bellwether Education Partners. The refrain is one that should be familiar to readers of this blog. Many, many teachers are net losers in current pension systems.

The Missouri-specific numbers show that only 58% of Missouri teachers will “vest” in the pension system.  Only 38% will “break even” in the system, meaning that 62% will pay more into the system than they will get out of it.

These are not my numbers. These are not Show-Me Institute numbers. These are numbers collected and analyzed by a third-party organization and published in a reputable journal house at arguably the most prestigious university in our nation.

Combine this with the fact that poorer districts subsidize pensions in wealthier districts, pension funds are taking on riskier and riskier investments to chase higher returns, pension plans have huge unfunded liabilities, and that reformed pension systems can be beneficial to teachers (more evidence here) and then ask yourself: Who are the villains again?

At some point cheap theatrics and ad hominem arguments aren’t going to cut the mustard anymore, and someone will have to answer to the facts: More than 40 percent of teachers fail to vest in the system (losing everything that the state has contributed), and more than two-thirds are net losers in the system. 

About the Author

Michael McShane

Mike McShane is the Director of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.