Any fair and equitable school system should have a funding policy that matches the financial resources each school receives to the specific needs of the students they are serving. But fully a quarter of our city’s charter schools receive the same flat funding amount regardless of the needs of the students with disabilities that they serve.
Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said during the meeting there needs to be more discussion in the Legislature about how enrollment growth is funded to account for fixed costs that aren’t directly affected. “I fully intend to fund it,” Hillyard said in an interview, noting public education needs are adding up quickly. “But we have to find a different way of looking at it.”
While the financial woes are a result of a confluence of circumstances, analysts say one culprit stands above the rest. “Pensions are one of the most untold stories of why this is happening,” says Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, an education policy organization in Washington. “These are big dollar amounts at play that people haven’t conceptualized.” According to the Federal Reserve, employee pensions across state and local governments are underfunded to the tune of $1.7 trillion.
What policymakers and others have failed to ask is how well the current pension system is serving its workers, particularly teachers. While many assume that the current problems lie solely in the state’s failure to properly manage its finances, few consider the design of the current plan and the impact it has on teachers. This report concludes that by adopting an alternative retirement plan for teachers, the state could improve its financial situation and provide better benefits for teachers.
As of September 2015 pension costs were $1,085 per pupil. The reasons for the dramatic rise in pension costs for school employees vary from state to state, but the main cause is payments to amortize the enormous unfunded liabilities that have come to exist as states and districts have deferred payments on benefits they have promised to their teachers and other employees.
So overall expenditures are up, but teacher salaries are actually down slightly over the same period. Today, the average public school teacher earns $56,689 annually, a couple hundred dollars less than the average teacher salary 20 years ago (in constant dollars). Why is this happening? This puzzle can be explained by three trends eating into teachers’ take- home pay: rising healthcare costs, declining student/teacher ratios, and rising retirement costs.