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Josh B. McGee

Robert M. Costrell, Josh B. McGee.

Current public pension funding policy has arguably failed on both theoretical and empirical grounds. The traditional actuarial approach elides the risk-return tradeoff at the heart of finance economics and has resulted in steadily rising contribution rates, instead of a sustainable steady state. We propose an economic reformulation of funding policy based on steady-state analysis of the fundamental equations of motion for pension asset and liability growth, incorporating both an expected return on risky assets and a low-risk discount rate for liabilities. Our steady-state result simultaneously conveys the benefit of risky investment and the cost of the associated risk. We integrate our analysis into a simple social welfare function to re-examine the basis for pre-funding and elucidate the net benefits of using risky assets to defray contributions. We also formally derive a family of transition policies for convergence to the expected steady state. We illustrate how the parameters of our proposed policy can be adjusted to manage the tradeoff between long-run contribution rate risk and short-term responsiveness. We believe our analysis provides the basis for reformulating contribution policy in a way that better supports sustainability and coherently conveys the tradeoffs consistent with finance economics.

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Andrew Camp, Gema Zamarro, Josh B. McGee.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying period for teachers. Teachers had to adapt to unexpected conditions, teaching in unprecedented ways. As a result, teachers' levels of stress and burnout have been high throughout the pandemic, raising concerns about a potential increase in teacher turnover and future teacher shortages. We use administrative data for the state of Arkansas to document the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on teachers’ mobility and attrition during the years 2018-19 to 2021-2022. We find stable turnover rates during the first year of the pandemic (2020-2021) but an increase in teacher mobility and attrition in the second year (2021-2022). Teacher mobility and attrition increased by 2 percentage points (10% relative increase) this second year but with heterogeneous effects across regions and depending on the teacher and school characteristics. Our results raise concerns about increased strain in areas already experiencing teacher shortages and a potential reduction in the diversity of the Arkansas teacher labor force.

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Dan Goldhaber, Cyrus Grout, Kris Holden, Josh B. McGee.

Over the last two decades, twenty-two states have moved away from traditional defined benefit (DB) pension systems and toward pension plan structures like the defined contribution (DC) plans now prevalent in the private sector. Others are considering such a reform as it is seen as a means of limiting future pension funding risk. It is important to understand the implications of such reforms for end-of-career exit patterns and workforce composition. Empirical evidence on the relationship between pension plan structure and retirement timing is currently limited, primarily because, most state pension reforms are so new that few employees enrolled in those alternative plans have reached retirement age. An exception, and the subject of our analysis, is the teacher retirement system in Washington State, which introduced a hybrid DB-DC plan in 1996 and allowed employees in its traditional DB plan to transfer into the new plan. Our analysis focuses on a years-of-service threshold, the crossing of which grants employees early retirement eligibility and, in many cases, a large upward shift in retirement wealth. The financial implications of crossing this threshold are far greater under the state’s traditional DB plan than under the hybrid plan. We find that employees are responsive to crossing the years-of-service threshold, but we fail to find significant evidence that the propensity to exit the workforce varies according to plan enrollment.

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Gema Zamarro, Andrew Camp, Dillon Fuchsman, Josh B. McGee.

The 2020-2021 academic year was a trying year for teachers. We use a nationally representative sample of teachers from the RAND American Teacher Panel to document that teachers’ stated consideration of leaving the profession increased during the pandemic. We also study factors associated with teachers’ consideration of leaving the profession and high levels of job burnout during the pandemic. Approaching retirement age (being 55 or older), having to change instruction modes, health concerns, and high levels of job burnout all appear to be important predictors of the probability of considering leaving or retiring from teaching. Hybrid teaching increased consideration of leaving the profession because of COVID. Health concerns and switching instruction modes are all associated with higher levels of concern about job burnout. Interestingly, those approaching retirement ages do not present higher levels of concern about job burnout than younger teachers. Although increased consideration of leaving and concern about burnout do not yet appear to have materialized into higher attrition rates so far, higher levels of job dissatisfaction could affect teacher effectiveness and could harm student academic progress.

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Dillon Fuchsman, Josh B. McGee, Gema Zamarro.

Adequately saving for retirement requires both planning and knowledge about available retirement savings options. Teachers participate in a complex set of different plan designs and benefit tiers, and many do not participate in Social Security. While teachers represent a large part of the public workforce, relatively little is known regarding their knowledge about and preparation for retirement. We administered a survey to a nationally representative sample of teachers through RAND’s American Teacher Panel and asked teachers about their retirement planning and their employer-sponsored retirement plans. We find that while most teachers are taking steps to prepare for retirement, many teachers lack the basic retirement knowledge necessary to plan effectively. Teachers struggled to identify their plan type, how much they are contributing to their plans, retirement eligibility ages, and who contributes to Social Security. These results suggest that teacher retirement reform may not be disruptive for teachers and that better, simpler, and clearer information about teacher retirement plans would be beneficial.

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James D. Paul, Albert Cheng, Jay P. Greene, Josh B. McGee.

Employers may favor applicants who played college sports if athletics participation contributes to leadership, conscientiousness, discipline, and other traits that are desirable for labor-market productivity. We conduct a resume audit to estimate the causal effect of listing collegiate athletics on employer callbacks and test for subgroup effects by ethnicity, gender, and sport type. We applied to more than 450 jobs on a large, well-known job board. For each job listing we submitted two fictitious resumes, one of which was randomly assigned to include collegiate varsity athletics. Overall, listing a college sport does not produce a statistically significant change in the likelihood of receiving a callback or interview request. However, among non-white applicants, athletes are 3.2 percentage points less likely to receive an interview request (p = .04) relative to non-athletes. We find no statistically significant differences among males or females.

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Jessica Goldstein, Josh B. McGee.

Jackson, Wigger, and Xiong (2020a, JWX) provide evidence that education spending reductions following the Great Recession had widespread negative impacts on student achievement and attainment. This paper describes our process of duplicating JWX and highlights a variety of tests we employ to investigate the nature and robustness of the relationship between school spending reductions and student outcomes. Though per-pupil expenditures undoubtedly shifted downward due to the Great Recession, contrary to JWX, our findings indicate there is not a clear and compelling story about the impact of those reductions on student achievement. Moreover, we find that the relationship between K-12 spending and college-going rates is likely confounded with contemporaneous higher education funding trends. While we believe that K-12 spending reductions may have negative impacts on student outcomes, our results suggest that estimating generalizable causal effects remains a significant challenge.

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03/20211.74 MB
Josh B. McGee, Jonathan Mills, Jessica Goldstein.

School district consolidation is one of the most widespread education reforms of the last century, but surprisingly little research has directly investigated its effectiveness. To examine the impact of consolidation on student achievement, this study takes advantage of a policy that requires the consolidation of all Arkansas school districts with enrollment of fewer than 350 students for two consecutive school years. Using a regression discontinuity model, we find that consolidation has either null or small positive impacts on student achievement in math and English Language Arts (ELA). We do not find evidence that consolidation in Arkansas results in positive economies of scale, either by reducing overall cost or allowing for a greater share of resources to be spent in the classroom.

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Dillon Fuchsman, Josh B. McGee, Gema Zamarro.

Many states have recently made or are considering changes to their teacher retirement systems. However, little is known about how teachers value various elements of their retirement benefits versus other aspects of their jobs and compensation. To help alleviate this gap, we use a discrete choice stated preferences experiment embedded in a nationally representative survey of teachers to estimate their willingness-to-pay for various retirement plan characteristics and other non-salary job components. We find that teachers would be indifferent between a traditional pension and alternative retirement plan designs if the alternatives were paired with 2 to 3 percent salary increases. Our results indicate that experience is a significant mediator of retirement plan preferences. While more experienced teachers are willing to pay more to keep their traditional pension plans, inexperienced teachers do not have strong preferences around retirement plan type. However, teachers’ willingness-to-pay for traditional pension plans is less than their willingness-to-pay for many other elements of their compensation, including the value of retirement benefits, retirement age, salary growth, healthcare coverage, and Social Security enrollment.

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Robert M. Costrell, Josh B. McGee.

Our goal in this paper, presented at the 2020 Brookings Municipal Finance Conference, is to better understand teacher pension funding dynamics with a focus on sustainability and intergenerational equity.  The origin of this paper is our analysis of the funding policy recommended in a highly publicized paper first presented at the 2019 Brookings Municipal Finance Conference (Lenney, Lutz, and Sheiner, 2019a; 2019b).  That proposed policy aims to alleviate rising pension payments that crowd-out classroom expenditures and teacher salaries by abandoning the attempt to pay down pension debt.  While the problem of crowd-out is real, we show that, with uncertain investment returns, the recommended policy would carry significant risk of pension fund insolvency and a jump in contributions to the pay-go rate, which is much higher than current rates. We close by proposing a policy evaluation framework that better incorporates risk and the intertemporal tradeoffs between current contributions and likely future outcomes.  We illustrate throughout with data from the California Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS).

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