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Statement of Margaret Cagle

January 16, 2008

Chairman McNulty and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about the unfair and devastating impact of Social Security Offsets on many public servants. I would like to share my personal story as one example of the harm these offsets are doing not only to individuals, but also to the teaching profession and society at large. 

After 15 years practicing and teaching architecture, I made the move to teaching mathematics in a public school that is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. While I had always found my work as an architect to be profoundly rewarding, I responded to a call for professionals from science, technology, engineering and math related fields to change careers in order to address a serious shortage of mathematics teachers in California in the mid-1990s. I had been able to measure the impact of my work in architecture with commercial and residential buildings across New York, Connecticut, and California, but I believed that I could make a greater impact and serve a greater good as a math teacher in a large urban school district. It is rare for a child to fall in love with math all alone; most students require a knowledgeable and impassioned teacher to guide them in realizing and embracing the relevance and beauty inherent in mathematics. Over the last 14 years, I firmly believe that I have done just that for my students.

While the choice to take up the work of teaching in a public school has provided me with great personal rewards including three national teaching awards, it has simultaneously punished me financially. Changing careers was not an easy decision. After spending six years in college studying architecture and urban planning, then apprenticing, passing rigorous state and national licensing exams, and building and running my own practice, I had a substantial investment in my profession. During those years, I was paying into Social Security, including several years paying at the higher self-employed rate. Having made the move to teaching, those contributions have been rendered nearly worthless to me. I had no idea that I was throwing away those years of contributing towards my retirement. As you would probably expect, architecture is generally a more lucrative career path than teaching, so I knew that my career move would result in an immediate pay cut. I did not realize, however, that I would suffer further financial penalties upon retirement. Had I been fully informed at the time, I seriously doubt that I would have chosen to embark on a career in public service.

Throughout the history of civilized society, individuals have been called upon to suffer personal injustices and to make sacrifices in order to serve a greater good. Tragically, the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) are requiring individuals to suffer and to sacrifice under a system which is also penalizing society. In California alone, it is projected that one-third of the current teachers will retire within the next 10 years, with even higher percentages among math and science teachers. At the same time as No Child Left Behind is requiring a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is dropping nationwide. The launch of Sputnik sparked an unprecedented focus on STEM education 50 years ago and now the globalization of the economy, flattening of the world and concerns about national competitiveness are spurring a renewed resolve to provide each child with an outstanding math and science education.

We can ill-afford to wait to attract more mathematically proficient and scientifically trained individuals to our nation's classrooms. Though the majority of math and science majors do not initially seek to pursue K-12 teaching careers, after working in private industry they may realize that there are greater personal if not financial rewards to be found in teaching. In recruiting from the private sector, I can assure potential teachers of the extraordinary opportunity of shaping the future through educating our children, but I cannot assure career-change teachers that they will not suffer monetarily when they retire. Ironically, the more practical experience that second-career teachers could bring with them to invigorate and enrich their classrooms, the more financially devastating that move would be. Without the repeal of the punitive provisions of the Social Security code, it is highly unlikely that knowledgeable and passionate individuals will choose to move to public teaching from the private sector, knowing that they are likely to take an immediate and substantial pay cut as well as face further financial hardships when they retire.

I urge the passage of H.R. 82 and S. 206. The current regulations under the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) are unfair to the present work force, and, on a larger scale, they seriously compromise the ability of our schools to recruit greater numbers of passionate and accomplished individuals to teaching at a time when we suffer from a critical shortage which is expected to worsen in the coming years. If there is any "windfall" in the current law, it has been to the federal government which reaps the rewards of not paying benefits to the individuals who earned them. The projected expenses associated with changing these regulations should be seen as an obligation rather than a cost; an obligation to the people who paid into the system with every expectation of receiving their benefits upon retirement. And an obligation to the next generation of citizens seeking a quality education to ensure that they will be equipped to be productive in careers that do not yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, to meet challenges that are not yet identified, in order to secure the future of this great nation.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today and will be happy to answer any questions.