As Election Day nears, critical state issues should be seriously discussed by those seeking office. One issue that Stand for Children Louisiana, a pro-student and pro-teacher organization, believes should rise to the top is the “slow motion crisis in retirement debt,” as it was recently referred to by The Advocate. We were glad to finally hear candidates admit the need to tackle the pension systems’ unfunded liability in the latest gubernatorial debate, but more must be done.
Louisiana funds education at a competitive level. Our state ranks 26th in the nation for per pupil funding. The public school funding formula allocates $3.85 billion for the state’s 720,000 public school students. Unfortunately, almost 30% of every dollar allocated never makes it to the classroom.
Instead, it must go toward non-classroom necessities including retirement system liabilities such as the unfunded accrued liability, or debt. With a UAL of $10 billion in the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL), the annual interest payment on the debt alone is $900 million. Our unacceptably high debt and interest payments mean we’re in danger of failing to keep the promises the state has made to our hardworking teachers and almost $1 billion is diverted from classrooms annually. That’s money that could be used to improve education outcomes for all students through higher teacher salaries and more resources for students and classrooms.
While it is important to acknowledge the positive steps taken to right the poor decision making of the past, we still haven’t made the tough decisions necessary to fix this problem once and for all. It's time for leaders to step up and pay down the pension debt and fix this problem to protect our teachers' retirements and our children's futures.
Though Louisiana has many competing priorities, pension system debt must not be ignored any longer. Continuing to avoid this difficult issue will eventually result in consequences that rob Louisiana’s children of the possibility of a better quality of education and deprive our hardworking educators of the retirement stability they deserve. This work will require a governor and Legislature brave enough to acknowledge that this is actually a crisis that our teachers and students deserve to have prioritized by leaders — rather than leaders who dismiss the truth.
As you prepare to cast important votes, please ask those on your ballot what they will do to solve the pension debt and system problem, and vote for those who will act with courage. As an organization that has supported both Democrats and Republicans in their bids for public office, we are firm in our belief that this is not a partisan issue. It’s time to "Pay It Down, Louisiana." Because it’s time the promises made to our teachers and students are promises kept.
CARRIE GRIFFIN MONICA
executive director, Stand For Children