This past week the governor released the framework for the pension reform bill. At the time I am writing this, the actual bill has not been released to the public. All of the propaganda that was released at the press conference had the title “Keeping the Promise.” When I look at the framework of the bill, that is the last thing that comes to my mind. As for the Teacher Retirement System portion, the proposed changes would devastate public education in Kentucky. The governor’s framework is definitely not “Keeping the Promise” to our students in public education. Section 183 of Kentucky’s constitution states “The General Assembly shall, by appropriate legislation, provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the State.”
This proposal would devastate public education for several reasons, and it would result in the students of Kentucky not receiving an efficient system of common schools. The proposal would put all new teachers hired after the bill becomes law into a 401(k) style plan. Teachers do not pay into the Social Security system and are not entitled to full benefits even if they paid into the system when they worked in a private sector position due to the Windfall Elimination Provision. When new teachers retire, the 401(k) would be all they have to live on during their retirement. They would have nothing to fall back on if the stock market crashes during their retirement or close to their retirement. Also, if they retire and live a long and healthy life, their 401(k) could be depleted before they die. This means that the retiree would have no income to live on. What would the retired teacher do? Would you go into the career of public service as a teacher with this type of promise? Teachers have lower salaries compared to their private sector counterparts. This has not been the case with our current system because there is a guarantee that when we retire we will have a defined benefit pension system.
If teachers are not guaranteed a defined benefit pension, I believe that we will have mass teacher shortages because no one will choose to enter the teaching profession. The students of Kentucky will suffer because our public schools will not be able to attract high quality professionals into the field. Our students would have larger class sizes and less qualified people teaching them.
In addition, these proposals will place hardships on our local school districts. Districts would be required to pay a 2% matching contribution in the 401(k) style plan for all new teachers. Where would local school districts get this money? What sacrifices would our students have to make because school districts are having to reallocate funds to cover this? Would reallocating be enough or would districts be forced to raise taxes? Our school districts are already not funded to the extent they should be and now the state would be placing this extra burden on them.
There are many more items in this proposal that are bad for Kentucky and its teachers. If I had an unlimited amount of time, I could list them all. Today, I wanted to focus on the devastating effects it would have on the students, school districts, and communities of Kentucky.
There is a way to stop this. Our state legislators can stop this plan from becoming law. A 401(k) style plan is not the answer. We must keep all future and current teachers on a defined benefit pension system. When funded properly, this system is not a burden to Kentucky. It is an investment in Kentucky’s future. Please call your state legislators and tell them a defined benefit pension system is what our teachers deserve. The legislative hotline number is 1-800-372-7181.
Marshall County Education Association President