Pensions really are in crisis, but the story is so full of large numbers, obscure projections, and dry terms like “unfunded liabilities” that not many people are paying attention.
The same is true for a lot of other big trends out there, which is why those sounding the alarm eventually settle on pithy/scary (if not always accurate) terms to get people’s attention. Global warming, for instance, or nuclear winter.
Now the pension crisis may have found its hook:
‘Silver Tsunami’ hits as pension costs devour California school budgets
(San Francisco Chronicle) – What happens when state funding improves, but local school budgets get worse? And how did we get into this situation in the first place?
It’s simple. School systems are getting hammered by the rising costs of pension and health care commitments. Meanwhile, they are being pinched by external factors including declining student enrollment, increased competition and frozen federal funding.
California is not an anomaly. Districts throughout the nation are facing the same squeeze.
So why isn’t anyone paying attention? Three main reasons:
Money is boring: And only boring people like chief financial officers talk about money and use phrases like “unfunded liabilities.” Interesting, cutting-edge people talk about “disruptive innovations” like personalized learning, or anything with the word “maker” in it.
Money is politically messy. Everyone wants funding for their favorite education project. In this zero-sum world, no one wants to talk about making tough choices. Even fewer want to discuss sensitive topics such as pension and health care liabilities.
Education finance has never been part of our nation’s education wars.Most of the opinion makers in education are like the Great Houses of Westeros in the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” They are much happier fighting each other to the death about issues like unions and charter schools than focusing on the more powerful forces that could destroy them all.
In “Game of Thrones,” that force is the White Walkers. In education, it’s the “Silver Tsunami” — the tens of billions of dollars in pension and other post-retirement benefits guaranteed to retirees.