Felzkowski bill seeks to help with teacher shortage, raise WRS retirement age

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor

Legislation introduced by 35th Assembly District Representative Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) on Thursday, Nov. 12, seeks to “modernize aspects of Wisconsin’s retirement system and focus on adapting it to serve today’s realities: teacher shortages and longer lifespans,” according to a Nov. 14 release from Felzkowski’s office.

The legislation would allow for all employees in the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) to re-enter the workforce after retirement. A WRS employee would be allowed to work full-time for 36 months without suspending their pension payment.

“However, any new WRS employment after the employee’s retirement would not contribute to their overall pension,” the release says.

“I hear from my school districts all the time about creative solutions they are forced to use when trying to fill vital teacher positions because there just are not enough people,” Felzkowski said in the release. “This bill will not solve the whole problem, but it’s just one tool in the tool box for our school districts and other WRS employers to bring their most experienced professionals back into the workforce.”

Dan Rossmiller, Government Relations Director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB), said in the release that WASB “has long been concerned about our state’s teacher supply situation and its impact on student achievement and school operations.”

“Easing the current limit on the number of hours a retired teacher may work before they are required to forego receiving their pension payments will also discourage disruptive turnover that currently occurs as rehired retired teachers reach their limit with a particular district and move on to another district,” Rossmiller said.

The bill would also raise the retirement age for WRS participants to a minimum age of 59.5.

“This age mirrors the earliest the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will allow for someone to withdraw from their 401(k) without a penalty,” the release says. “This change would not include WRS employees over the age of 40 when the bill becomes law or protective service occupations.”

According to Employee Trust Fund data referenced in the release, the average retirement ages for general employees and teachers have been on the rise, with retirement at an average age of 61.38 years of age last year.

“Wisconsinites’ life expectancy continues to increase, and yet our retirement age has not been reformed to reflect that our population is living longer,” Felzkowski said. “With one of the only fully funded pensions in the country, it is incumbent upon all of us to think about the future integrity of the retirement fund and how best to protect retirees in years to come.”

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