Long on pensions, short on teacher pay
In 1994, West Virginia's Teachers Retirement System had enough assets to cover only about 11 percent of its long-term obligations. It had an unfunded liability of $3.3 billion.
Paul Owens, a statehouse reporter for the Daily Mail at the time, noted that it was the most underfunded public pension plan in the United States.
That year, a concerned Gov. Gaston Caperton and legislative leaders came up with a 40-year plan for West Virginians to fully fund teachers' pensions.
Almost halfway through that plan, an update:
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, this state's Teachers Retirement System is now 46.5 percent funded, but the unfunded liability now stands at almost $4.8 billion.
We're getting somewhere, but not fast enough.
If the council's figures are correct, West Virginia's teacher pension fund is tied with Illinois for second place in the most-underfunded category, and Indiana's is the worst - only 44.3 percent funded.
The National Council on Teacher Quality has an agenda, as Stephanie Banchero of the Journal notes, . It "advocates stronger teacher-evaluation tools and has sometimes been at odds with teachers unions," she wrote.
The council's Sandi Jacobs said outdated pension systems make it difficult to attract the best teachers.
In West Virginia, the pension shortfall affects how much money is available to working teachers.
West Virginia must devote many millions of dollars every year to support people who worked in schools in the past.
That makes it more difficult to raise teacher pay to attract the best teachers in the here and now.
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, told Banchero that while there could be changes in teachers retirement systems, the focus should be on fully funding pensions.
That greatly complicates the challenge before those who would improve West Virginia's schools.
As economics columnist Robert Samuelson has said, governments in the United States are over-invested in the past and underinvested in the future.
How right he is.