With the passage of Senate Bill 21, it will now be easier for many school teachers and staff who have retired to return to the Kansas classroom.

Formerly, the retirement system for state employees in Kansas—called KPERS—had become so entangled in complex regulations that it was difficult for educators to return to the classroom without risking violating some provision and losing their retirement.

Formerly, if a significant number of workers who had retired from a KPERS job returned to work again under a KPERS employer, this double-dipping could substantially cut into the KPERS funds. Therefore, a large number of regulations had been implemented making returning to the classroom a complicated and risky venture. Retirees who lived near state borders could drive across the state line and teach in out-of-state schools. But a large pool of experienced Kansas school talent was lost to Kansas.

This last year, the Kansas Legislature finally simplified the system.

The waiting period before re-employment has been simplified and depends on whether the worker retired before or after reaching age 62. There is no earnings limit. The employer contribution to KPERS is 12.01 percent on the first $25,000 and 30 percent above $25,000. There is no contribution for non-covered positions that are either non-school or temporary school employment that falls below 630 hours of work per year or 3.5 hours a day for 1980 days.

These simplified criteria for working after retirement clarify decision-making for school boards and removes risks and uncertainty for returning educators.

The teacher shortage continues to grow, both in Kansas and nationwide. Shortages are no longer confined to special education and the science fields. Some Kansas districts have vacancies across many disciplines including elementary education. And recruitment of college students into teaching will continue to lag until entering teacher salaries rise and health care coverage becomes more reasonable.

However, one important stop-gap solution is to hire back recent retirees who have the training, classroom experience and credentials to teach in Kansas classrooms. Kansas has a pool of several hundred retirees who could serve a few more years in Kansas classrooms. Depending on how many are elementary or secondary teachers, that could be well over ten thousand Kansas students who would be learning under a qualified teacher, rather than passing time under a full time sub.

Much credit for getting SB 21 passed, and salvaging our Kansas talent for future Kansas students, goes to Senator Jeff Longbine and Representative Jim Kelly.