Floridians Strongly Support Pensions for Public School Teachers

Public Support Comes as Lawmakers Consider Pension Legislation Would Eliminate Teacher Choice and Drive up Taxpayer Costs

WASHINGTON, DC, March 18, 2021 – As Florida lawmakers consider legislation that would strip away pensions for teachers, a new state-wide survey finds that Floridians overwhelming support providing these retirement benefits for the state’s education workforce. Eighty-seven percent of working-age Floridians agree that teachers in the state should continue to have a choice between a pension and a 401(k) account, and 82 percent say it is important to provide teachers with competitive retirement benefits to attract and retain teachers in Florida.

These findings are based on state-wide survey of working-age Floridians conducted by Greenwald Research on behalf of the National Institute on Retirement Security and the Florida Retired Educators Association (FREA) to measure public sentiment on a broad range of retirement issues.

The Florida legislature is considering legislation that would end pensions for new state employees beginning in July 2022. Other states that have replaced pensions with 401(k)-style accounts have seen taxpayer costs escalate while weakening public employers’ ability to recruit and retain experienced employees and undermining retirement security.

The statewide poll of working-age Floridians finds:

  • There is overwhelming public support for teacher pensions in Florida. Nearly all (87 percent) agree that Florida teachers should continue to have a choice between a pension and a 401(k) account. Three quarters (75 percent) agree that Florida teachers have a better chance at a secure retirement with a pension plan rather than a 401(k) account.
  • Floridians want fiscal responsibility when it comes to public employee benefits. Eighty percent agree any changes to teacher retirement benefits should not raise costs to Florida taxpayers, while 73 percent say pensions are a good deal because Florida teachers and investment income cover most of the pension cost. Also, 82 percent agree Florida teachers should continue to have a pension because they help pay the costs.
  • Floridians say that teacher retirement benefit levels are about right (48 percent) or too low (36 percent). The average retirement benefit for Florida teachers is about $2,051 per month, with nearly three-fourths of the benefits paid by employee contributions (3.5 percent) and investment income (71.3 percent).
  • Fairness is important to Floridians. Seventy-nine percent say it’s unfair that the state has diverted money from the pension fund to balance the state’s budget. Meanwhile, 76 percent agree it would be unfair to offer pensions to some Florida public employees, like police officers and firefighters in, but not to teachers.
  • Floridians see the workforce value of pensions. Eighty-two percent agree that offering competitive retirement benefits with a pension is important for maintaining good schools because it helps attract and retain good teachers in Florida. Seventy-nine percent agree that pensions help incentivize long teaching careers, which benefits children, schools, and communities. Also, 71 percent agree that Florida teachers should have a pension to compensate for their pay.

The recent FRS funding shortfalls largely can be attributed to Florida lawmakers diverting their required pension contributions to Florida’s General Fund during the Great Recession. Legislators used state employees’ retirement savings to balance Florida’s budget to the detriment of the FRS pension funding. This money still has not been fully returned to the educator’s retirement plan, and now legislators have introduced legislation that would make managing the pension fund more difficult, raise taxpayer costs, undermine teachers’ retirement, and hurt the state’s ability to recruit and retain teachers.

Information for this study was collected from online interviews between December 4–10, 2020 and February 23-25, 2021. The final data were weighted by age, gender, and income to reflect the demographics of Floridians aged 25 and older. The sample was selected using Dynata, an online sample provider.

The National Institute on Retirement Security is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers and the economy as a whole. Located in Washington, D.C., NIRS membership includes financial services firms, employee benefit plans, trade associations, and other retirement service providers. More information is available at www.nirsonline.org. Follow NIRS on Twitter @NIRSonline.