Kansas Teachers Could Potentially Get Higher Retirement Benefits with New Bill

In TOPEKA, a new legislative proposal could offer teachers in the state the opportunity to transition to a retirement plan offering enhanced long-term benefits. This potential change aims to address the escalating teacher shortage crisis in Kansas.

During a Tuesday hearing discussing the proposed legislation, Timothy Graham, the director of government relations and legislative affairs for the Kansas National Education Association, highlighted the significant number of teacher vacancies in the state. According to data from the Kansas State Department of Education, there were an estimated 1,810 teacher vacancies in fall 2023, up from the 1,650 vacancies reported in fall 2022.

“Educators have chosen to pursue their passion despite receiving lower compensation,” Graham emphasized. “They have endured stagnant wages, increasing public demands, challenging disciplinary situations in classrooms, and significant student loan debt. Ensuring a dignified and comfortable retirement for them after years of public service is a moral imperative.”

In 2015, Kansas introduced different tiers within the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) in response to financial pressures. KPERS covers a wide range of public sector employees, including teachers, legislators, and firefighters.

The workforce is categorized into three retirement tiers: KPERS Tier 1 for individuals enrolled prior to July 2009, KPERS 2 for those joining between July 2009 and December 2014, and KPERS Tier 3 for members enrolling after January 2015.

While Tiers 1 and 2 operated on a formula based on years of service and final average salary, Tier 3 of KPERS likens a member’s lifetime benefit to contributions and accumulated interest in a 401K-like account over their career.

Senate Bill 479, discussed in the Senate Committee on Education on Tuesday, aims to transition Tier 3 members to Tier 2 by January 2025 and enable teachers joining KPERS in July 2024 to enter Tier 2. Short-term teachers who would benefit more under Tier 3 will have the option to remain in Tier 3.

According to KPERS, there are approximately 40,000 teachers employed in Kansas school districts, with around 15,500 of them being KPERS Tier 3 members.

To illustrate the disparity between tiers, Alan Conroy, the executive director of KPERS, computed the variance in benefits for a teacher with 30 years of experience retiring at age 60 under the KPERS 2 and KPERS 3 structures. A KPERS 2 teacher would receive $45,015, whereas a KPERS 3 teacher could expect between $26,978 and $36,866.

Leah Fliter, the assistant executive director of advocacy at the Kansas Association of School Boards, voiced support for the proposed changes during a hearing on March 5.

Fliter stated that school board members within their organization believed that enhancing retirement benefits could attract and retain teachers in Kansas.

“Our members indicated that an improved retirement package would not only draw young individuals to the profession but also encourage veteran teachers to continue their service in the classroom,” Fliter remarked. “Furthermore, moving teachers to the upgraded benefit system in Tier 2 would signify respect for the profession.”