Twenty school districts in Kentucky were shut down on Friday, March 30 as teachers poured into Frankfort, the state capital, to protest the passage of what teachers are calling an “ambush pension bill.”
Kentucky Education Association (KEA) president Stephanie Winkler said that KEA has planned a rally on Monday, April 2 to continue to protest the state’s leadership’s “blatant disrespect for the law and democracy.”
Winkler’s remarks came after Republican leaders of Kentucky’s Legislature inserted language that radically alters pensions for teachers and other public employees into a routine bill about sewer repairs, and then rushed the bill, SB 151, through both houses for a vote.
No committee hearings were held on the newly written bill and there was no analysis of the bill’s impact on the state or to legislators’ constituents. There wasn’t even a chance for lawmakers to read the 291-page bill before they voted.
Nevertheless, the House of Representatives at 7:30 P.M. narrowly approved the bill 49-46, and three hours later the Senate did the same and sent it Gov. Matt Bevin to sign.
The new bill eliminates pensions for newly hired teachers and other government employees and replaces them with a cash balance plan, which shifts much of the investment risks onto individual employees and reduces their pension benefit.
In addition to protesting the stealth attack on pensions, Winkler said that the Monday demonstrations will be about holding the governor and lawmakers accountable for education funding.
“We want lawmakers to vote for a budget that funds public education,” said Winkler at Friday afternoon media conference.
Winkler said that lawmakers need to increase state funding for classroom education, restore cuts to public school transportation budgets, and ease local school districts’ financial burdens.
Most school districts will be on spring break beginning April 2, but Winkler urged districts that are still open to close school on April 2 so that educators can come to Frankfort and make their voices heard.
As of Friday afternoon, at least three had announced that they will do so.
After passage of the SB 151, Gov. Matt Bevin, who enthusiastically supports SB 151, said that the bill solves the state’s pension funding problem, but it doesn’t.
For one thing, the bill provides no new funding to pay down the $26.75 billion unfunded liability of the state employees’ pension fund.
Gov. Bevin wants to divert more than a $1 billion from the teachers’ pension fund, which is in much better shape, into the state employees’ pension fund.
Winkler said that HB 151 is bad for public education because it creates an inferior retirement benefit that makes it more difficult than it already is to attract new teachers to teach in the Kentucky’s schools.
Making it more difficult to attract quality educators, Winkler said, breaks a promise that the state has made to provide an equal and quality education to all public school students.
SB 151 leaves the pension of current teachers and other public employees intact, but the teachers who came to Frankfort on March 30 and plan to return on April 2 have every reason to believe that SB 151 breaks a promise made to them as well as to future teachers.
SB 151 leaves public pensions still seriously under funded, and there’s every reason to believe that in the not too distant future, Gov. Bevin won’t hesitate to use the pensions’ precariousness as an excuse to eliminate pensions for all teachers.
The stealth attack on public pensions comes after, Gov. Bevin’s original proposal to end public pensions in Kentucky, SB 1, appeared to be dead in the water.
Public demonstrations by teachers and other public employees had made lawmakers wary about supporting the bill.
Gov. Bevin’s antipathy toward secure retirements shouldn’t come as a surprise. He is an enthusiastic acolyte of the Koch brothers, whose political action committees lavishly support political candidates seeking to weaken public institutions including public education and public service.
Teachers from all over Kentucky recognize this threat, and that’s why they rushed to Frankfort on March 30 and will return on April 2.
And it appears that their loud voice has been heard by Andy Beshear, the state’s Democratic attorney general.
Beshear told an audience of teachers who packed the capitol’s halls on Friday that SB 151 violates the non-voidable contract the state has made to teachers and other public employees, reports the Lexington Herald Leader.
“While the (legislature’s) leadership broke their promise to you,” Beshear said. “I am going to keep my promise to you. I’m going to sue over this bill.”