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WI educator: Social Security vital for eligible teachers

Smiling senior man in a library
Ermolaev Alexandr Alexandrovich
Adobe Stock
Not all states have updated their laws to allow public employees such as teachers to qualify for Social Security benefits. Wisconsin is one of the states to have taken such action.

Wisconsin is one of 33 states allowing Social Security benefits to be extended to teachers.

As the future of the program is debated, a retired educator said keeping certainty in place is crucial if the country doesn't want more people leaving the profession. On the campaign trail, some Republican candidates have floated ideas opponents argued would either cut or eliminate the program.

John Bigley, a retired eighth grade science teacher from the Rhinelander area, said he earned a pension, but he added the extra help from Social Security payments makes retirement less challenging financially, especially during a period of high inflation.

"We have what we have right now, and it's keeping our head above water," Bigley acknowledged. "We don't have a lot of stress."

But he worries about recipients who do not have other retirement savings. Bigley added threatening to reduce benefits does not help to retain teachers during a national shortage of educators.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is among those suggesting program changes. He defended his approach by saying he wants to move it to discretionary spending to enact needed reforms.

Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said older Americans are especially feeling the weight of higher-consumer costs. He argued retired teachers are among the many individuals who deserve to keep the earned benefit after devoting their life to a certain profession.

"We need to pay teachers more, I'll say that, across the board," Lawson asserted. "But at the same time, we need to ensure that every teacher who's paid into the system, that they don't have to be scared that some politician is going to reach into our pocket and take our benefits away."

Teacher advocates pointed out teachers also face less job security, as school districts struggle with budget issues of their own. They contended what teachers earn through Social Security will at least be there if they do not stay on long enough to secure a pension.

It's estimated only one in five teachers in the U.S. go on to receive their full pension benefits.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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