Kentucky pension uproar grabs national spotlight amid larger debate on teacher benefits
- About two dozen Kentucky counties canceled classes Friday as educators protested the swift passage of SB 151, which was rewritten from a sewage bill into a public employee pension overhaul over the course of Thursday, NPR reports.
- Under the pension overhaul, which Gov. Matt Bevin has expressed his intent to sign, teachers will receive cash-balance retirement plans that invest retirement contributions from employees and the state. The plan caps the amount of sick leave educators can accrue for retirement purposes, requires state employees hired between July 1, 2003, and Sept. 1, 2008, to put 1% of their salaries toward retiree health, and requires the state to add significant funds to pension plans over the next three decades.
- Additionally, state workers hired since Jan. 1, 2014, are no longer guaranteed a 4% return on retirement savings, though state Attorney General Andy Beshear has threatened to sue should the bill be signed into law.
Education can often seem like a thankless job. Salaries for the field in many areas have failed to keep up with the cost of living, with educators in cities like San Francisco sometimes embracing several-hour commutes from more affordable towns, and they've also faced vilification from policymakers, billionaire investors and others to varying degrees over the years. With those reasons alone enough to contribute their fair share to teacher shortages that exist nationwide and ongoing concerns about how to get a new generation of high-quality students interested in the field, adding another layer to the problems by messing with benefits isn't going to make things any easier.
Along with Kentucky, neighboring West Virginia has grabbed headlines in recent weeks with its own teachers demonstrating over pay and benefits, as have Arizona and Oklahoma. While these situations can be frustrating for the parents in a school system, who must then figure out child-care arrangements when protests close schools, it's also as good an opportunity as any for administrators to engage district families on an issue many can potentially empathize with. That support can be invaluable in swaying lawmakers' decisions or replacing them with representatives who may see things differently. In the long run, pressure from district stakeholders could also serve to influence priorities on funding and other issues, as well.
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