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Public School Teacher Retirement Plans

August 30, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Brittany Whitley

Most public school teachers in the United States are enrolled in state or local pension plans. Missouri law (RSMo Section 169) requires all public school teachers to be enrolled in one of three pension plans, depending on where they teach. The majority of full-time teachers are enrolled in a statewide pension program — Public School Retirement System (PSRS). Both traditional district and charter school teachers in Kansas City and St. Louis must be enrolled in distinct regional retirement plans — Kansas City Public School Retirement System (KCPSRS) or Public School Retirement System of the City of Saint Louis (PSRSSTL), respectively. 

Highlights

  • Pension plans are most beneficial to teachers who serve for many years within the same state and often are considered a strong teacher recruitment and retention tool. 
  • In some cases, non-pension retirement strategies (e.g., 401(k) plans) save money for states and employers. These plans also provide portable retirement funds that are most likely to benefit short-term teachers and teachers who move out of state.
  • Two thirds of states that operate public charter schools, including Missouri, require all charter school teachers to participate in the statewide or local teacher retirement plan.
  • For charter schools, the relative value of participating in a pension plan is influenced by program cost, retirement program stability, representation of charter schools on pension boards, and employer penalties for opting out of pension plans. 

Limitations

  • Because there are few cases where individual teachers can choose whether to enroll in a pension or 401K plan, researchers often rely on modeling ideal plans to compare how different retirement strategies would impact a hypothetical teacher’s lifetime earnings. 
  • Additional research is needed to determine how cost inefficiencies and charter school representation on pension boards has changed as charter schools have expanded in Missouri and other states.
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