Like most states across the country, Georgia is having difficulty filling vacant teacher slots. The good news for the Peach state, though, is that help appears to be on the way in the form of familiar faces. The state Senate just approved a bill that would bring retired teachers back to the classroom on a full-time basis while still being allowed to collect their state pensions.
House Bill 385, dubbed the “Teacher Pipeline Package,” was given the final approval in a 50-1 Senate vote, which now sends the bill to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature. As this proposal came last year from Gov. Kemp himself, prevailing wisdom says he is eager to sign it into law. The bill will provide much-needed relief to rural public schools that are begging for teachers.
Under the new bill, retired teachers who have at least 30 years of service on their record would be allowed to come back to the classroom to teach. The catch for them would be they would also have to be retired for at least 12 months before making their triumphant return. At this point, they would receive both their full salary and full pension. “This bill benefits the retired teacher, our students, the retirement system, and rural Georgia,” said Sen. Russ Goodman, a Cogdell Republican via Atlanta’s Fox 5 News. “This helps school systems fill vacant teaching positions in high need areas with qualified and experienced teachers.”
The bill, aimed at bringing back retired teachers, is also aimed at school districts filling slots in three areas with the most need. The slots would be determined by Georgia’s Department of Education as it investigates the various regions across the state. According to Goodman, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, the entity which gives teachers their licenses, claims there are roughly 4,000 current teaching positions across the state that are being filled by long term substitutes, teachers who are teaching outside of their designated fields, or by a person still finishing their teaching degree.
The bill would have school districts pay into the Teachers Retirement System both the 19.98% of an employee’s salary, which is the normal employee contribution, and also pay the usual 6% teacher contribution. According to the Teachers Retirement System’s executive director Buster Evans, the contribution recognizes that a retired teacher is now probably filling the role that would otherwise be held by a teacher who’d be contributing their own money into the retirement fund.
The Peach state is not in such dire straits with its teacher shortage as some of the other states across the country but the problem remains, nevertheless. Experts see this as a problem now and possibly in the future as enrollments continue to drop. It is for this reason, that the bill would be in effect for four years beginning on July 1. After that, the state auditor will issue an effectiveness report to determine if the bill should be extended.
The bill that Kemp proposed last year was part of a much larger package intended to boost the numbers of teachers. Bringing back retired teachers was seen as a win-win, although the 30 years of service requirement and the call for those coming back to have been out of the game for at least one year was not in his initial proposal. But that rule was implemented to keep some teachers from retiring, gaining their pension, and immediately returning to work full time.
On the books right now, before the July 1 Teachers Pipeline Package goes into effect, retired teachers can return to work part-time and collect up to 49% of their normal salary and still collect their pension. Evans claims there are around 2,500 teachers who fall into this category. He also said that if any of those 2,500 meet the new requirements, they would then also be eligible to return to full-time employment while still collecting their full pension.
Georgia had a similar retired teachers’ program in place a decade ago before the state shut it down. That program only included around 2,000 teachers and administrators across the state. Currently, there are around 2,900 teachers and administrators working that have more than 30 years of service, but not all of those would be eligible to retire and then return to work.