Many Michigan teachers won't stay long enough to collect their pensions

Most of the country's younger public school teachers won't stay in the profession long enough to earn a pension, according to a report from Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington-based education consulting group. For Michigan, the data shows only 43 percent of our public school teachers will receive a pension for their service to students.

The report, "Friends Without Benefits: How States Systematically Shortchange Teachers' Retirement and Threaten Their Retirement Security," uses state pension plan benefits from all 50 states to estimate how many teachers will qualify for at least a minimal pension benefit.

Nationwide, 55 percent of public school teachers stay in education long enough to become eligible for pension benefits. For Michigan, the report estimates that 72 percent of teachers in the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System won't reach age 60-the "normal retirement age''-and receive full benefits.

Michigan is one of 17 states where teachers need 10 years of service to become eligible. Half of all states require only 5 years and in Arizona, eligibility is immediate. Michigan is also one of a few states that allow teachers to withdraw from the pension system and keep their individual and employer contributions along with earned interest. 

The report also shows that 48 states have pensions that are not fully funded. While there are a lot of reasons for the underfunding, the failure of elected officials to make the financial contributions they committed to is high on the list. That's certainly true for Michigan. And the report highlights a major consequence of underfunding-states are balancing their pension funds on the backs of teachers by either cutting benefits or shifting costs to teachers-or both.