If I am a substitute teacher and have no intention of getting my credential, now or in the future, do I still have to contribute to CalSTRS?

Ask Jack Jack Ehnes

As a substitute teacher, you become a member of CalSTRS as early as the first day following the pay period in which you have performed 100 or more days of creditable service during the school year for a single employer (Education Code section 22503). Until passing that threshold, you can only become a member of the CalSTRS Defined Benefit Program by making a voluntary election in writing.

Participation in the CalSTRS Defined Benefit Program for California public school preK-12 teachers, community college instructors and public school administrators is mandatory; part-time educators can choose to become members.

If your time as a substitute teacher falls below the 100 or more days of creditable service threshold, you can elect to participate in a plan offered by your employer. If you never fully vest in the CalSTRS Defined Benefit Program, you may also have your contributions returned to you with a small amount of interest earned.

There is an exception if your employer offers the Cash Balance Benefit Program. In that case, even after working 100 days, you can remain in the alternative program. Picking the retirement plan that is best for you is an important decision. Under federal law, if you are not covered by the CalSTRS Defined Benefit Program, you must be covered under Social Security, an alternative retirement program (such as the Cash Balance Benefit Program), or both. Some issues you may wish to consider include:

  • Does the plan offer a monthly retirement benefit for life, or is it a non-lifetime benefit based on contributions and interest?
  • What is the contribution rate? Is it matched by your employer?
  • Is there a vesting requirement?
  • Does the program charge administrative fees? (CalSTRS programs do not charge administrative fees.)
  • Is there a guaranteed annual interest rate?
  • Does the plan have a record of sound investment experience?
  • How long do you have to wait to receive your funds?

Substitute teaching is defined as creditable service; which includes activities such as teaching, vocational or guidance counseling, services related to school curriculum, certain administrative duties and others defined in the California Education Code that count toward your service credit and require a credential, certificate or permit.