Georgia Lawmakers Refuse to Even Study Pension Reforms for Teachers
By Ty Tagami
Lawmakers effectively killed a bill Thursday that sought to overhaul Georgia teachers' pensions, refusing to allow a study of the potential financial effects.
Senate Bill 152 didn't make it out of this year's legislative season, but it was on the agenda for the 2016 session. In order to come up for approval next year, though, an actuarial study would have been required.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, couldn't get approval for a study during a post-session meeting Thursday of the joint House-Senate retirement committee. With more than a dozen lawmakers present, Hill couldn't get a second on his motion to approve the study.
The bill aimed to implement a hybrid retirement plan for teachers hired after 2016, part traditional pension and part 401(k).
Teacher advocacy groups argued that the current pension system is well-run. They feared that reduced contributions from future teachers would erode its solvency.
"We are recognized as one of the top five teachers retirement systems in the country," Bill Sloan, executive director of the 25,000-member Georgia Retired Educators Association, told the lawmakers. "Why would you mess with something that's great? ... What's being proposed is terrible."
Michael O'Sullivan, state director of StudentsFirst, a group that supports charter schools and other alternative teacher career tracks such as Teach for America, told lawmakers that the current retirement system delivers the greatest benefits to only those teachers who stay in their jobs a long time. The group wants to recruit teachers from the top of their college classes and hopes to elevate the status of the profession. That would be easier if the job paid more, especially at the entry level.
"There are a lot of great teachers who know going in that they're not going to spend a lifetime in the classroom, and we need to have something for them," he said.
Hill said he didn't necessarily support his own bill, especially without raising teacher pay. He said he merely wanted to know what its financial impact might be before moving the legislation forward.
(c)2015 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)