I think it goes without saying that most of my fellow Kentuckians smelled the stench lofting off of the sneaky passage of the dubious Senate Bill 151, as they awoke to text notifications or local news reports that their local school district would be unable to open due to a shortage of teachers. Why did this bill—initially a mostly unassuming bill “… relating to sewer construction districts…”—piss off so many educators to the point that they stopped hoarding sick days, and overstressed our already meager pool of substitute teachers? Well, in a field with an already astronomical turnover rate, our lawmakers sneakily, quickly, and in the dead of night, gutted our pensions. Our guaranteed ability to retire after a career’s worth of service.
Starting with the idea of a ‘guarantee’, new workers will not longer be entered into the inviolable contract—the contract that protects the benefits that workers are promised upon their hiring. In doing this, new employees entering into the teaching field are not only open to a ‘bait-and-switch’ in years to come, should they not pay into the retirement system at appropriate levels, even current teachers may eventually find their pension system still operating at a deficit. Coupled with this, the current reform proposal grants a lower return, removes the death benefit, and teachers will now have to work longer before collecting. Governor Bevin has decried the ‘thug mentality’ of teachers as they fight to keep what was promised, yet with smug obtuseness, he and his party refuse to look at options that would place state pensions firmly into solvent territory, while not reducing benefits—and breaking promises—for teachers.
“Teachers are not allowed to draw from Social Security; our pensions may be our only safety net, and its one that we pay into generously. This was not a problem created by teachers.”
Returning the extremely high turnover rate among teachers, we’re going in exactly the opposite direction of where we need to be headed, as we seek to make sure every child can read, write, understand mathematics, and head off to some form of higher education. Certainly, many may claim that the benefits teachers currently receive are extremely generous, but the numbers say otherwise. I certainly did not enter a career in teaching with my pension as my primary concern—I wanted to reach and help children (and return the favor that teachers paid me)—but the reality of this job is that it is extremely difficult. Indeed, many of my fellow new-teacher cohort have commiserated with me regarding nearly—or actually—being brought to tears by the demands of our profession. Further, for those that do not realize, we teachers are not allowed to draw from Social Security; our pensions may be our only safety net, and its one that we pay into generously. This was not a problem created by teachers.
Lastly, I want to thank you for the outpouring of support from my fellow Kentuckians. It feels as if—at least from 99% of the people that I have had the pleasure to communicate with—that respect for what our educators do for our nation is a bipartisan issue. This makes the current climate among (some of) our politicians and their push to weaken, damage, and hamper one of the hardest workforces we have in the United States so inexplicable. Inexplicable, if it wasn’t so obvious that the dismantling of our public-school system means obscene profits for those that financially backed their campaigns. With this, I hope you will continue your support and join me in Frankfort on Monday to show our legislators that the line in the sand is drawn here. Let’s refuse to let public education go without a fight!
This was written by a teacher in the Kentucky Public School system anonymously, because they have concern that their public voice may yield repercussions. If you need a platform for your message, Never Nervous is interested in hearing your perspective. Please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.