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Why can't retired NC teachers return to the classroom during the teacher shortage?

A viewer wondered why retired teachers can't return to the classroom without losing their retirement benefits.
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A classroom of a daycare center without children and teacher

A viewer named Susan reached out to WFMY News 2 with the following question: 

With the shortage of teachers across the state, why would North Carolina not allow retired teachers to return to the classroom without losing their monthly retirement benefits?

We reached out to several local lawmakers about the question.

Senator Michael Garrett, a Democrat, who represents the 27th district in Guilford County, wrote, "There are two major concerns legislature has struggled with surrounding this question. One, the pension compliance issues with federal law governing retirement and pension plans. Two, the concern it would exacerbate the teacher shortage by encouraging teachers to retire early."

"We did pass a temporary measure, SB399, which I was proud to co-sponsor," Garrett wrote. "Which was a targeted approach to allow retirees in high need subjects to return to the classroom for a year. This legislation expired June 30, 2021. Since our state’s teacher shortage is only getting exponentially worse every year, I know we will be returning to this topic in the next legislative session. While allowing retirees to return to the classroom helps address the teacher shortage in the short term, it is only a band-aid on the systemic issues we face in public education in our state."

Senator Amy Galey, a Republican, who represents the 24th district in Guilford and Alamance Counties, wrote, "Existing law allows retired teachers to return to the classroom on a part-time or temporary basis (less than a certain number of hours per week) subject to an earnings restriction. They can also stop their retirement benefit temporarily and teach full-time with no restriction."

A representative who works in the State Treasurer's office also offered a response: "Getting a full pension while also getting a full-time paycheck is only allowable under federal law if the state meets certain conditions for offering retirement benefits which the North Carolina programs do not meet. South Carolina and some other states do meet those conditions. However, employee stakeholder groups have opposed the changes necessary to allow it as a permanent feature here. Interestingly, the General Assembly recently enacted a time-limited program within federal guidelines that allowed it as a temporary feature, but fewer than five school system employees across the state participated in the program so it was not renewed."

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