Pension Bill Delivers Blow to Public Education


Taylor Rader, Olivia Montgomery and Blayk Riley at the Frankfort rally.

Olivia Montgomery, Features Editor

In the beginning, there was a sewage bill.

Kentucky has recently gained national attention for the protests of teachers, firefighters, policemen, students, and other citizens of the tax reform, education budget and pension plan that was shadily tacked onto Senate Bill 151 in the middle of the night on Thursday, March 29.

The irresponsibility of the Kentucky government, along with Governor Bevin’s ridiculous comparisons of teachers to ‘thugs’ and outlandish accusations of abuse due to teachers attending the rallies, has made our state the laughing stock of the nation.

As someone who comes from a long line of teachers and attended three of the protests at Frankfort, I am appalled at the blatant disregard of public service workers so that the rich can get richer.

In short, here are some details of the pension and budget bills…

  • The pension plan moves new educators hired after January 2019 to a “hybrid” plan. This plan causes new employees to lose the protection that existing employees have. For instance, legislators or the governor could decide to change the retirement system and cut benefits for new teachers at anytime in the future. 
  • In addition, a hybrid plan provides less of a guarantee for sufficient retirement funds, since it relies on the fluctuating stock market. 
  • This is an issue considering that teachers make an average annual salary of around $51,000-$52,000 in Kentucky, and this number is much lower for starting teachers. So, they don’t receive a high enough income to compensate for a decrease in retirement money by investing heavily in the stock market. 
  • In addition, the budget bill moved Kentucky to a 5% flat tax. To clarify, every individual has to pay 5% of their income, meaning that people who make $20,000 a year will pay the same percentage as those who make $100,000 or $100,000,000 a year. This seems unreasonable to me, considering our state pension is $40 billion in debt, funding of our education system remains below where it was in 2008 in inflation-adjusted dollars, and the extra income taxes are highly needed. 
  • Teachers had even more to protest in the Governor’s original budget, which included cuts to education. Governor Bevin’s original budget proposal eliminated transportation funds (school buses), youth services coordinators, while also unconstitutionally pushing costs for education on to counties.

The entire issue is caused by the fact that the government was financially irresponsible with the pension funds in the past, and the legislature remains unwilling to find the revenue to support state programs and employees. Now that the funds aren’t there, they expect the people who educate our youth and protect our community to reap the consequences, when they had no part in the spending of their retirement money.

I’ve seen many people, particularly on social media sites like Facebook, condemn teachers specifically for rallying in Frankfort to receive more money. This is very clearly not the issue and it is conflating the issues for which teachers in other states were protesting.

Teachers and other pension recipients in Kentucky just want what they were promised and more important, what they earned.

Although the salary is not the highest for this field, despite the requirements of an advanced college degree, the retirement package and associated benefits are the largest financial motivator for public service men and women.

How would you feel if benefits that were promised to you since the beginning of your career were suddenly taken away from you because those funds were used up for other things?

Also, consider the fact that those who receive public pensions do not receive social security when they retire, even if they had a previous job in which they did pay into social security.

Even more ridiculous is that those who receive public pension cannot receive the social security money from their spouse in the event of their spouse’s death.

Essentially, this pension system is their only form of retirement income. I understand that many people who don’t draw from the pension system have developed a cavalier attitude. However, the cuts to education affect our state’s future as a whole.

Anyone who has a student or is closely related to one should be concerned that they aren’t getting what they deserve from the public education system.

In the end, the pension bill was passed, placing new teachers hired after January 2019 on the hybrid plan.

It’s safe to say that this is disheartening in terms of the future of education in Kentucky.

You can expect teachers to move to other states that can guarantee them a safe retirement, leaving our state at a disadvantage.

The final budget that was passed overrode a veto from the Governor and improved funding for education.

Thanks to this override, funding for K-12 education will be increased, retirees under 65 can still receive their insurance, and money was saved for public education by the lack of funding for charter schools.

Although the budget and pension systems are not perfect, they are definitely better than they were, thanks to the thousands of people who came to Frankfort to support public education.

For those who relentlessly defend Matt Bevin and the legislators who voted in support of his agenda because these politicians are members of their party, try and remember this is not a party issue.

No matter whether Democratic or Republican, Bevin’s comments and attack on public education are insensitive and damaging to our state.

Although the situation is disheartening, it brought out the best in the Commonwealth. People from every background came together to fight for the future of our state, and they were unstoppable.

Over my 11 years in the public education system, I have been very blessed to have the best teachers and education I could have asked for.

Because of the hours they put in and the selfless dedication they have to creating a brighter future for us, I am a better person and more prepared for success.

I felt compelled to rally with teachers because they were doing so for me. They wanted the best for their students and were determined to get funding that would help them achieve that.

These protests were not selfish. They taught everyone who is watching, including all of us students, that it’s always important to stand up and do the right thing.