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Local Editorials

Despite pension cuts, more plan teaching careers

Overall benefits still attracting college students

In 2010, the Illinois Legislature passed a pension bill that cut retirement benefits for new teachers.

Both of the state’s major public school teachers unions said at the time that it would make it harder for Illinois schools to recruit educators.

I thought it would be interesting to see whether Illinois now is facing a shortage of teachers.

According to Illinois’ supply-and-demand report from 2011, the number of certificates issued during the last 5 years has increased.

The most recent data showed that in 2010, 19,252 individuals received new teaching certificates, an increase of 2.6 percent from 2009 and 10 percent from 2008.

That’s hardly indicative of a shortage.

That said, there is a sound economic argument to be made for the unions’ position. After all, a basic economic principle is that when compensation for a position goes up, talent is attracted to that role. When compensation goes down, there’s less competition for that spot.

So why doesn’t that seem to be the case here?

After all, college students seem to be stampeding toward education degrees despite the reduction in benefits.

Admittedly, the folks counted in the 2011 survey chose to be education majors a few years before the pension cuts were imposed.

Still, the state’s pension problems have hardly been a secret for the years leading up to the switch to the two-tier system.

The financial solvency of the state pension system has been an issue discussed for years – and yet college students continue to pursue education degrees at a rate far greater than there are classroom jobs available in Illinois.

Why?

I asked Jay Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, for his take on the situation.

Once one weighs in the benefits of teaching – a shorter work year, job security, salary and other factors – education remains an attractive career option, Greene said.

And that’s not to mention the intangible rewards of working with children.

It would appear that even with the reduced pension benefits, education appears to a pretty appealing career option.

How else can we explain why so many of today’s college students want to be teachers?

In a nutshell, here is what happened to public school teacher benefits when the state adopted the two-tier system:

Retirement age raised to 67 for new teachers.

Pension cost-of-living adjustments will not compound upon each other year after year when these new teachers retire more than 30 years from now.

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