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With permission from Democracy Prep Public Schools

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Uncovered: Social Security, Retirement Uncertainty, and 1 Million Teachers

Leslie Kan
Chad Aldeman

Retirement savings are often described as a three-legged stool: Social Security, employer retirement plans, and personal savings. For many American workers, Social Security is the most consistent portion of the three-legged model, providing a solid plank of retirement savings.

But nationwide, more than 1 million teachers — about 40 percent of all public K–12 teachers — are not covered by Social Security. In Uncovered: Social Security, Retirement Uncertainty, and 1 Million Teachers, Leslie Kan and Chad Aldeman analyze the consequences of this policy choice. Teachers without Social Security coverage face substantial uncertainty and must rely more heavily on their employer retirement plans (state pensions) and personal savings.

Unfortunately, state pension plans leave too many teachers unprotected. According to an analysis of state pension plans’ own assumptions, half of today’s new teachers will not stay in a single pension system long enough to qualify for a pension when they retire. Even for teachers who do qualify, the existing structures offer minimal benefits even to those who stay for 10, 15, or even 20-plus years. The subsequent reality: many teachers not covered by Social Security are left with inadequate retirement savings from their time in the classroom.

At a time when an increasing number of states struggle with teacher recruitment and policymakers are concerned about retirement security more generally, states should look for ways to provide all teachers with secure retirement benefits. Social Security is not sufficient as a stand-alone retirement program. The authors offer case studies from three hypothetical teachers of varying experience levels to show that all teachers, however, would benefit from Social Security coverage as one component of a comprehensive retirement plan.

Download the full report here, or read a condensed PowerPoint version here.


We are happy to launch Ahead of the Heard, the team blog of Bellwether Education Partners!

Ahead of the Heard will be a regular home for commentary, analysis, and original insights from our team. We are confident that the education policy debate will benefit from the voices and perspectives of our staff.

Case Study

Having successfully implemented its previous growth plan, Harmony partnered with Bellwether to develop a strategic plan for its next five years, focusing on balancing continued growth with deepening impact in cities with already-established schools.