Teacher Pensions: The Math Adds Up to a Crisis

January 29, 2015 AT 10:45 AM

Teacher pension plans across the country are staggering from a half-trillion dollars in debt. Put in perspective, that's more than $10,000 worth of debt for every student in the nation's primary and secondary schools.

In 2014, state teacher pension systems had a total of $499 billion in unfunded liabilities, which has risen $100 billion in just two years, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan research and policy group dedicated to restructuring the teaching profession.

The report card on teacher pensions found that 70 cents of every dollar contributed to state pension systems pays for this massive debt rather than covering current employees' future retirement benefits.

"The math on state teacher pension policy doesn't add up," suggested Sandi Jacobs, the organization's vice president. "The funding crisis is staggering, yet the structure of most states' pension systems isn't giving teachers what they need."

The NCTQ collectively awarded states a "C-" for their teacher pension practices. Mississippi received the lowest grade (F) because of conditions such as long vesting periods and a poorly funded system. Only Alaska earned an "A" for its pension practices, while South Dakota received the next highest grade (B+).

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