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Teachers & K-12 support staff push back against bill over concerns about pension security

Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 11:46 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Florida teachers and K-12 support staff are fighting to save their pension. They believe Senate Bill 84 will cause them to lose something they were promised, their defined benefits pension. Instead, new employees would have to enroll in a 401(k) style retirement plan.

“Part of us going into teaching is not about the money. It is about kids. We also understand to put up with the poor pay and the stress and working many, many extra hours is that we will have a pension. Small though it may be at the end of the road after 30 years, 30 plus years even,” explained High School Teacher Nicole Biener.

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Putting money into a 401(k) style pension is not realistic, Biener said, because then they are relying on something that is not guaranteed. Former teacher Kim Cook believes this pension plan is being defunded because fewer people are paying into it. She said teachers and support staff are a significant contributor to the fund.

“Teachers were promised in 1968 that they would also have a pension because the salaries were so low in the state of Florida,” explained Cook.

If this law goes into effect, Cook thinks the teacher shortage could become worse.

“I believe that this will keep educators from staying in Florida. It will keep new educators out,” said Cook. “They will want to head to states that have pension plans so that they are assured that they will be financially stable during their retirement years.”

Biener said if her pension plan is impacted, “I’ll be working at Publix, I guess when I’m 85.”

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Senate President Wilton Simpson thinks the pension plan is the “single largest threat to Florida’s balance sheet.”

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who is the sponsor of SB, explains, “Traditional pension plans place investment risk for changes in economic conditions that impact the retirement plan’s funded status squarely on the taxpayers, and provide little benefit to employees who do not spend their entire career in government. Our goal is to provide a solution that is affordable for Florida taxpayers, reliable for government employees, and attractive to the newer workforce.”

According to a news release, “The legislation modernizes the Florida Retirement System (FRS) by closing the pension plan (defined benefit) to new enrollees, except for members of the Special Risk Class, and requiring participation in the investment plan (defined contribution), effective July 1, 2022. The bill does not impact the ability of any current FRS employee to select participation in the pension plan or the investment plan. Changes included in the bill only pertain to non-Special Risk Class FRS employees initially enrolled in the system on or after July 1, 2022.”

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