Some retired Georgia teachers could return to the classroom full time while still collecting state pensions under a bill given final approval Tuesday by the state Senate.
Senators voted 50-1 for House Bill 385, sending it to Gov. Brian Kemp to sign into law. The Republican governor proposed the bill last year as part of a package to increase teachers statewide.
Under the measure, teachers who have 30 years of service could return to the classroom after at least 12 months of retirement, earning both a full salary and their pension.
“This bill benefits the retired teacher, our students, the retirement system, and rural Georgia," said Sen. Russ Goodman, a Cogdell Republican. “This helps school systems fill vacant teaching positions in high need areas with qualified and experienced teachers.”
Districts could hire retired teachers in three top need areas, as designated by the state Department of Education in various regions around the state. Goodman said the state Professional Standards Commission, which licenses teachers, has determined there are 4,000 positions currently being filled statewide by teachers teaching outside their designated field, by long term substitutes or by someone finishing their degree.
The district would pay the Teachers Retirement System both the normal employer contribution of 19.98% of an employee's salary, plus the 6% contribution that a teacher usually makes. Buster Evans, the pension fund's executive director, said that contribution recognizes that a returning retiree is probably filling a job that would otherwise be held by a teacher contributing to the retirement fund.
The bill would be in effect for four years starting July 1, with the state auditor issuing a report in 2025 about its effectiveness.
Kemp proposed the measure last year as part of a broader package to increase the number of teachers. The version approved by the Senate on Tuesday, with requirements for 30 years of service and to be retired for at least one year is narrower than what Kemp originally wanted. The restrictions aim to ease some lawmakers' concerns that a wave of teachers could double dip by retiring and immediately returning to work.
Georgia is not experiencing as severe a teacher shortage as some other states, but experts say it’s still a problem amid declining enrollments in colleges of education.
Currently, teachers can return to work part time and collect up to 49% of their regular salary while still collecting a pension. There are about 2,500 such teachers now, Evans said. He said any part-time retiree who meets the other requirements would be eligible to return full time and still collect their pension.
It's unclear how many teachers would take part. Evans said a similar program only included about 2,000 teachers and administrators statewide about a decade ago before the state abolished it, but he said this bill is more restrictive. There are also about 2,900 teachers and administrators still working with more than 30 years of service, but Evans said not all would be eligible to retire and return.