Alabama House okays proposed teacher retirement change

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The House Representatives gather on the House floor (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

By The Associated Press

As the state faces a teacher shortage, the Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday that proposes changes to retirement benefits to try to lure people to stay in the classroom.

Representatives voted unanimously for the bill called the Education Workforce Investment Act, which would alter the retirement structure for public education employees hired after 2013. The changes include allowing employees to retire with benefits after 30 years even if they haven’t reached age 62.

The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.

“We have a shortage among educators, particularly we recognize the teachers in the classroom but it goes beyond that,” Republican Rep. Alan Baker of Brewton said. Baker said there are also shortages of bus drivers and other school employees.

The bill would reverse some of the changes lawmakers implemented in 2013 when they changed retirement structure for new hires because of concerns about the long-term cost of pension benefits. “It’s been deemed that might have been a slight over-correction,” Baker said.

Currently, participants in the teachers retirement system are classified as Tier 1, if they were first hired before 2013, or Tier 2, if they were hired on, or after, Jan. 1, 2013. The tiers have different contribution rates, formulas and service requirements to collect benefits.

The bill would create anew Tier 3 retirement level and allow employees to retire at any age after 30 years of service with up to 80 percent of their final salary, Baker said. The bill also proposes increasing the multiplier used in retirement calculations and allows employees to convert unused sick leave, similar to the Tier 1 system.

The bill would raise what employees must contribute to their retirement to make it the same as the old system. Tier 2 employees would be automatically shifted to Tier 3 unless they opt out of the change.

The bill passed without a dissenting vote, although Rep. Thomas Jackson criticized Republicans’ past cuts to educators’ benefits.

“It’s you all that took all that good stuff away from these good teachers in the state … I’m glad to know that you all saw the light and see where we are losing good teachers,“said Jackson, a Democrat.

Republican Rep. Bill Poole, who chairs the education budget committee, said it is a “reasonable” action.

“We’ve looked really hard at it. It’s part of the component of teacher recruitment and retention efforts to address a teacher shortage,” Poole, a Tuscaloosa Republican, said.

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