Pension uncertainty leading educators to early retirement

UPDATE: This story aired May 7. Today, May 8, the Illinois Supreme Court has thrown out the 2013 teacher pension reform law.

Trying to fix budget problems may have led to some unintended consequences in Illinois.

In 2013, then-Governor Pat Quinn signed a teacher pension reform bill into law that would save the state $160 billion over 30 years. 

Since that time, close to 3,000 educators have retired, many of them because they’re worried about losing some of their pension. 

For Superintendent Kelly Stewart, Benton High School has always been home.

“Once a Ranger, always a ranger,” Stewart said.

In 2014, Stewart’s administrative work earned her the Illinois Superintendent of the Year award.

“I like what I’m doing,” Stewart said. “We’ve got a great faculty and staff, and we’re doing really good things with curriculum and instruction.”

One year after receiving the award, Stewart has decided to call it quits.

“To be honest with you I was worried about the teacher retirement system rule changes, and that probably got me in the pipeline and forced my retirement a couple of years earlier than I would have retired,” Stewart said.

The Illinois Education Association believes educators like Stewart shouldn’t be forced into early retirement out of fear of losing their pension due to state budget woes. In fact, it contends it’s illegal for the state to cut the educators’ pensions.

“The Illinois constitution is extremely clear that pension benefits cannot be reduced or diminished,” IEA spokesman Charles McBarron said “You just hear a lot of people who are concerned.”

“Times are tough and resources are thin. That’s the time you really need the experienced people that can help make things do-able in that kind of environment, and we’re losing them,” Stewart said.

A judge overturned the Illinois pension reform law in 2014, however lawmakers have appealed the case to the Illinois Supreme Court. 

Stewart says she is heading to McKendree University, which is a private school, to teach in the doctoral program.

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