CalSTRS earned a mere 1.8 percent profit on its investments in the just-ended fiscal year, prompting the pension fund to renew its request for financial help from the Legislature.
The return was well below CalSTRS' official forecast. It also was a fraction of the 23 percent CalSTRS earned the year before.
The 1.8 percent gain translated into a profit of $2.7 billion. The California State Teachers' Retirement System, the nation's second-largest public pension fund, ended the fiscal year June 30 with $150.6 billion in assets.
The weak results spotlight the problems facing public pension funds as lawmakers debate the cost of employee retirements in an era of tight budgets.
Gov. Jerry Brown has called for a 12-point plan to rein in pension costs, although he's been unable to craft a deal with his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature. Earlier this week, Brown scrapped plans to put his pension proposal on the November ballot.
While Brown and Republican lawmakers want to reduce costs, CalSTRS has been saying for several years it needs more money from the state and school districts to fix its funding problems. It has approached the Legislature about raising contribution rates, but so far no action has been taken.
"Investment returns alone cannot place CalSTRS on a solid financial footing," said the pension fund's chief executive, Jack Ehnes, in a statement. "It's clear that the Legislature and governor must implement a long-term funding plan that includes gradual, predictable and fair contribution increases for all parties involved."
CalSTRS' official forecast calls for annual investment gains of 7.5 percent.
"This fiscal year has presented a very difficult market for long-term investors like CalSTRS, with wild fluctuations amid ongoing instability in Europe, slowing growth in China and India, a U.S. credit rating downgrade and a sluggish economy," said the fund's chief investment officer, Christopher Ailman, in a news release.
"The coming year presents us with many of the past year's challenges," he added.
Despite the weak year, CalSTRS said it has earned an average 12 percent over the past three years. Ehnes said the latest results aren't a long-term "gauge for how well the fund is doing."
Separately, the California Public Employees' Retirement System is set to release its results Monday.