Missouri considers pension changes to solve teacher shortage

(The Center Square) – Legislators are considering changes to Missouri’s teacher and non-certified school employee pension plans to alleviate pandemic-related teacher and staff shortages.

HB2114, sponsored by Rep. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, will reduce restrictions on pensions if a retired public school teacher returns to the classroom or to a non-teaching position in a public school. The legislation also increases from two to four years the length of time a retired teacher or retired non-certified public school employee can work while still receiving their pension.

During testimony before the House pensions committee, Rep. Black, the committee vice chairman, said similar legislation was passed by the House and died in the Senate last year as the legislative session ended in May. He said the legislation simplifies and improves the amount retirees can earn before their pensions are restricted.

“The first part is a fix for something that I’ve done earlier in the legislature where I picked a poor number,” Rep. Black said.

Rep. Black used an example of the amount of benefits a retired teacher could receive if they return to work as a bus driver for a public school district. Previous legislation stopped the teacher’s pension benefit after they worked an established number of hours. That was replaced with 60% of the state’s minimum teacher’s salary, currently at $33,000, the 2009-2010 wage set by state law in 2006.

Rep. Black’s proposed legislation sets the annual earnings exemption amount parallel to a Social Security recipient before the calendar year of attainment of full retirement age. For people attaining the normal retirement age after 2022, the annual exempt amount in 2022 is $19,560, according to the Social Security Administration. For people attaining the normal retirement age in 2022, the annual exempt amount is $51,960 as the higher exempt amount applies only to earnings made in the months prior to the month attaining the normal retirement age.

No one testified against the legislation and several school and teacher organizations testified in favor.

“This bill just makes sense,” said Scott Kimble, the director of advocacy for the Missouri Association of School Administrators. “We’re having trouble fielding (bus) drivers right now. The first part of the bill helps in that regard and then for the critical shortage, it just makes sense to go an additional two years…And this is true if you’re in Blue Eye or Springfield.”

Mike Wood, representing the Missouri State Teachers Association, said the legislation could assist retired teachers and staff.

“This will allow them to earn more money and work a longer time,” Wood testified. “We’re in a time where we need not only bus drivers, but cooks and secretaries and any non-certified position in a district. We’re supportive of that provision. It’s really the same thing when bringing in a retired teacher during a critical shortage to work full time. Raising that from two to four years just makes sense in the times we’re having right now.”

The legislation states the total number of the retired certified teachers, or retired non-certified employees, can’t exceed the lesser of 10% of the total teachers/non-certified staff, or five teachers/staff.

Otto Fajen of the Missouri National Education Association asked the committee to consider expanding those requirements, especially for larger school districts.

“If you’re a district that needs to employ 2,000 teachers, we may be in a time where the critical shortage restriction is too tight right now,” Fajen said. “So we encourage the committee to consider whether there are any other improvements that could be made. It may not be appropriate to do it in this bill, but we definitely want the committee to be thinking about it because schools have a lot positions of all kinds right now. The tools you can give us could be very helpful.”

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