President’s Corner

No Family Left Behind

by Bill Hill

As our public education system moves forward with the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, I am struck by the potential for great opportunity that lies ahead not only for all schoolchildren, but also for those public educators who work tirelessly to make certain it happens. I believe America’s children will benefit from the higher standards and expectations being placed before them, which simultaneously provide a positive spotlight on public education that our country has not seen for years.

That spotlight should allow the public to see more clearly the need for universal pension portability and licensure reciprocity nationwide for school system leaders and teachers. If it’s logical that national standards exist for students as they move from community to community without penalty, it seems only fair that those who lead and teach should be treated the same with regard to their own livelihoods.

In this critical time of teacher and administrator shortages, the question remains: How will we encourage the best and the brightest to enter and remain in our profession if there is no future in it for them? Studies suggest that in the next 10 years two million teacher replacements will be needed. It takes six recruits for each teacher who actually enters the classroom. This brings the number to a staggering 12 million.

Within the next five years, 50 percent of existing school system leaders will retire. But nothing is being done to support our profession in terms of protecting pension benefits. Educators are not consumable commodities like the textbooks and supplies that change from year to year. Educators are people with families and bills to pay. And after they have spent a lifetime in the profession, they ought to have the right to an earned pension. Licensure should be made universal so those of us who move from state to state are not penalized and can continue to share our experience, expertise and talent in more than one state, which, in turn, benefits more children across the nation.

Did you know that city managers, Division 1 football coaches and most university professors are able to transfer their retirement pensions as they move across state lines? We must bring equity to our profession on this issue. It’s been said that educators do much of America’s most important work. As president of AASA, the most-frequently asked questions I hear from our school leaders concern pension portability and licensure reciprocity. These questions always come from those whose personal lives have been affected. We are expected to grow, learn and share the skills of our trade, but professional growth has little reward for the security of our families who must move along with us.

The AASA Resolutions Committee has identified pension portability and licensure reciprocity as its top priorities this coming legislative season, but these issues also become state concerns. It will take a national effort to obtain the same ability to maintain continuity in our retirement plans as these other employees. As AASA president, the staff and I have been working with the National Council on Teacher Retirement, the National Schools Boards Association, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the Association of School Business Officials to address these issues as well as to protect existing and future retirement pension benefits. The highest priority in our discussions was the protection of “defined benefits” (retirement amount guaranteed for life) from attempts by state legislatures to move to “defined contribution” plans (retirement benefits subject to stock market conditions) because the amount could vary drastically.

My work this year as president is broad, but critical to you in your service to children. I hope to attain certain equality for our profession that other members of the community long have enjoyed. But more importantly, I am trying to assure that no family is left behind—in particular, those of our nation’s public school leaders.

Bill Hill is president of AASA.