The Unfair Retirement PERA-chute: New Group Pushes for Pension Reform

Happy Friday, readers. I know we’ll all be starting our weekends in a few hours, but I think there’s time to squeeze in just a little more education policy before then. Today’s topic: reform efforts centered on Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA).

I’ve written about PERA and some of its pitfalls before, but let’s recap briefly for those who are new to the discussion. PERA is Colorado’s public employee pension plan, and the program covers a variety of public employees. Many of those employees are—you guessed it—public school teachers.

While the phrase “pension plan” sounds decidedly innocuous, PERA has been criticized frequently. Among other things, the scheme has been knocked for tying Colorado to some pretty nasty unfunded liabilities and unfairly penalizing young or new public employees.

Although a 2010 bill attempted to address some of PERA’s problems, it may not have fully righted the listing ship. Now, though, the winds may be starting to shift.

Last night, a coalition group called the Colorado Pension Project (CPP) sponsored an event called A Great Teacher in Every Classroom: The Role of Pensions in Recruiting and Retaining Quality Teachers. Co-hosted by Colorado Succeeds, the event featured national experts from groups like Bellweather Education Partners, The New Teacher Project, and the National Council on Teacher Quality. The focus: How the current pension system fails to serve as a tool for attracting and retaining top teaching talent.

While many pension reform efforts are shouted down as attempts to attack public employees’ benefits, the Colorado Pension Project makes it clear that they want no such thing. According to the group’s website:

“[The Colorado Pension Project is] not in the business of cutting employee benefits. Rather we seek a more sustainable and accountable system that provides a path to secure retirement for all employees throughout their careers.”

In other words, CPP is about fairness. And let’s face it, there’s something inherently unfair about a pension system that so obviously creates winners and losers.

PERA is wild, shaggy beast that Colorado is eventually going to have to tame, like it or not. Hopefully we are beginning to see the first real steps toward that goal.