Politics

Thousands of teachers have packed into the State Capitol building in Frankfort to protest the Republican-led legislature’s passage of a bill overhauling the state’s pension systems last week and other policies.

The pension changes would no longer give conventional pensions to future teachers, instead providing them with cash-balance retirement plans that depend on the stock market but are guaranteed to not lose money.

The bill would also cap the amount of sick leave that teachers can accrue for retirement purposes as of the end of this year.

Robin Miller, a retired teacher from Bullitt County, said she is worried that the changes would make teaching less attractive as a life-long career.

“As someone who taught 33 years, if I were in the system now and had less than ten years, I probably would have to reevaluate what my future would be,” Miller said.

“I probably would be looking at a job elsewhere.”

The pension changes were unveiled during a hastily-organized committee hearing last week and passed through both chambers of the legislature within a matter of hours.

Gov. Matt Bevin has indicated he will sign the bill.

All of Kentucky’s schools are closed today. Most districts are out on spring break and those remaining have closed to accommodate teachers attending the rally.

On Friday, more than two dozen school districts closed after a rush of teachers called in sick following the passage of the pension bill.

Veronica McQueary, an elementary school teacher from Whitley County, said she feels like lawmakers don’t care about public education.

“I’m just so disheartened with it. I’ve thought about moving to another state where we might be respected more,” McQueary said.

The pension changes affect state workers besides teachers, as well.

Public employees hired since Jan. 1, 2014 already receive cash-balance retirement plans, but they will no longer be guaranteed that their plans will increase by four percent every year. Instead the plans will be guaranteed to not lose money.

Because Kentucky teachers aren’t eligible to receive Social Security benefits, new teachers’ cash-balance plans would receive elevated contributions from the state and local school districts under the plan.

Amanda Carter, a middle school teacher from Rowan County, says the plan doesn’t provide the same security as the conventional defined-benefit pensions currently received by teachers.

“Going in to this hybrid retirement system that you don’t know what you’re getting, how are we going to get quality teachers for Kentucky?” Carter said.

“I love my state, but right now I feel like they’re kind of abandoning us or they don’t care about education.”

Republican leaders of the legislature also unveiled a new version of the state budget and revenue bills early Monday morning and are trying to pass the proposals out of both legislative chambers today.

Monday is the 58th working day of this year’s 60-day legislative session.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.