Georgia Legislature

FILE — A copy of the rules of the Georgia State Senate sits on a desk on the Senate floor in the Capitol in Atlanta.

Its teacher retirement plan is one of the best recruiting tools Georgia has, according to a lobbyist for the state’s educators, but he says changes will adversely affect not only recruitment but also current educators.

Joe Fleming, the head lobbyist for the Georgia Association of Educators, said House Bill 109 will take away the ability of teachers to use earned sick days toward their creditable years of service for retirement and cuts cost of living adjustments.

“The current situation is good for teachers,” Fleming said, stating that with good attendance teachers are currently able to take early retirement. “You would think they would want to reward that.”

In the midst of a teacher shortage, Georgia needs all the help it can get to recruit teachers, Fleming said, especially since Georgia’s teachers are in the bottom quarter for compensation in the nation.

At this point, a current version of the bill is not available on the legislative website, but Fleming said there will be a hearing on Tuesday regarding the proposed changes.

The sponsor of HB 109, Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he received a large amount of emails from teachers but felt their concern was unwarranted.

“I deleted every one of them,” Benton told the AJC. “Because, for the most part, they had not read the legislation and I felt like it was on emotion only.”

Fleming said he didn’t have any suggestions to amend the bill in order to make it more palatable.

“I don’t know if we would have any other suggestions to improve it besides not to pass it,” he said. “The TRS is one of the most well regarded teacher funds in the country. It took a little hit from the recession, but it’s building back up.”

The fund covers teachers in Georgia’s public schools as well as many employees of Georgia’s university system.

The retirement system is comprised of the retirement accounts of 262,000 active members and pays a monthly benefit to 128,000 retired members and survivors, according to the TRS website.

The advantage of the system over a traditional IRA or 401(k) account is the payment given to retirees is not impacted by stock market performance. The state guarantees TRS members will receive retirement income for life, and that’s a pretty potent recruiting tool.

Fleming also regards the TRS as one of the most valuable recruiting tools to convince people to work as teachers in Georgia.

“We currently have a teacher shortage in Georgia,” Fleming said. “I think pay raises for teachers and the TRS are important for attracting college graduates to the profession. We’re not doing a good job at attracting or retaining teachers. The classroom is much different today and it is much more demanding.”

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