The nation’s teacher and school staff shortage has dominated news headlines since “back to school” season began in earnest this fall. It’s not hyperbole to say that America’s students face a learning crisis; nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a loss of 600,000 educators since January, 2020.
While the root causes behind the teacher shortage have been well documented, solutions for filling vacancies remain a work in progress. Our local union representing certified educators in New Haven Public Schools, for example, reached an agreement to compensate members for taking on additional classes as a short-term measure.
The additional resources are welcomed, but that is a stop-gap approach in a single district among many facing a growing need. Districts are calling back retired teachers with the promise that their pensions will not be affected. In at least one state, the National Guard has been called to serve.
To prevent a worsening student learning crisis in the long term, we must overcome the financial disincentives barring entry to public education as a profession. Unfortunately, too many have a lot to lose by working as a teacher in Connecticut.
First, they face the “teacher pay penalty” — salaries well below private sector occupations with similar educational requirements. Then they run up against established federal legislation that imperils their retirement security.
The Government Pension Offset (GPO) may reduce — and often eliminates — Social Security spousal benefits for widows and widowers relying on Connecticut’s teacher pension program. The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) cuts the Social Security benefit earned through non-teaching employment by as much as 50%.
Fortunately, we have the opportunity to overcome this obstacle to recruitment from the private sector. There are members of Congress from both sides of the aisle that are supportive of repealing the WEP/GPO. Four proposed bills would do just that, including one in the U.S. House raised by U.S. Rep. John Larson (D-1st District). Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D- CT) introduced another in the upper chamber.
It is time for Congressional House and Senate leadership to join their caucus colleagues — and our local, state and national unions – to get behind the efforts to repeal the WEP and GPO. Students here in Connecticut and across the nation need and deserve highly qualified teachers at the head of their classrooms now.
Margaret Rick is a member of the Hartford Federation of Teachers-Retired, AFT Local 1018-R. Jan Hochadel is President of the AFT Connecticut.