CT's Long-Term Pension Debt, and Keeping Schools Safe and Healthy


Connecticut’s Long-term Pension Debt

Yesterday, the CT Mirror's Keith Phaneuf wrote about a recent analysis of states' unfunded pension liabilities by The Pew Charitable Trust. Connecticut's combined pension debt for state employees and teachers in 2019 represented 14.8% of the state's personal income. As a result, the Pew report ranks Connecticut eighth-worst among all states for unfunded pension obligations. Phaneuf notes that Connecticut's pension debt was accumulated over a long period of "fiscal irresponsibility," between 1939 and 2010. Since then, the state has fully funded its obligations each year and has tried various strategies to pay down the pension debt; the Lamont administration, for instance, has used its budget surplus to make supplemental pension payments. But dips in the market have sometimes destabilized Connecticut's pension fund investments, and state employees are retiring at a higher rate than normal this year—all of which could contribute to the lingering pension problems.

At the end of last year, our affiliate, Education Reform Now CT (ERN CT), partnered with the Equable Institute, specifically to analyze how teacher pension obligations impact matters of student equity. In Connecticut, although teacher salaries are set at the local level, teacher retirement benefitswhich are based on those salariesare funded entirely by the state. ERN CT and Equable therefore referred to the state's annual payments as a subsidization of districts’ teacher compensation packages. Borne by the state, the cost differs between districts, depending upon the benefits they can each offer. This system of financing retirement benefits, the study finds, reinforces systemic disadvantages for the highest need school districts. More specifically, when district-level pension costs are looked at on a per-pupil basis, the state:

(1) Pays larger pension subsidies on behalf of high-performing districts;

(2) Pays pension subsidies at double the rate for more affluent students as for their peers; and

(3) Pays pension subsidies at more than twice the rate for white students as for students of color.

In other words, beyond the role it plays in Connecticut’s story of unfunded liabilities, the current state sponsored system of funding teacher pensions is also vastly inequitable. Whether looked at from an economic or a moral perspective, Connecticut needs to make systemic change.

Keeping Schools Safe and Healthy

Yesterday, the state released back-to-school guidance for the 2022-23 school year. Until now, children with COVID symptoms have had to be isolated. But according to NBC CT, Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani observed that since we now have diagnosis, treatment, and preventionit's time to focus more on children’s overall well-being. The guidance is accordingly designed to get students back to in-person learning as much as possible. To that end, it encourages vaccination of school-aged children as the number one way to keep COVID out of schools.

Disconcertingly, however, not everyone in the state is on board with the modern-day realities about the power of vaccines. CT News Junkie has an election story this week about Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski's attendance at an event hosted by the group “Connecticut Residents Against Medical Mandates.” The group formed in opposition to legislation that ERN CT and others spent years promoting and supporting, beginning in the wake of the 2019 inter-state measles outbreak. When the legislation finally passed last year, it removed non-medical exemptions to school immunization requirements—so that all families have equitable access to safe and healthy classrooms free of preventable disease. (Ironically, a similar bill had been put on hold the year prior when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the legislature in 2020.)

On Tuesday morning, Lt. Gov Susan Bysciewicz announced at a press conference that, "We're here to let the people of Connecticut know that Bob is courting extreme groups that espouse ideas that will endanger our public health." She’s right.

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