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Kentucky Teachers Rally in 'Day of Action' at Capitol

Ryland Barton, Kentucky Public Radio

Teachers from across Kentucky are holding a rally in Frankfort on Wednesday, March 21 to protest proposed changes to the state pension system and support funding for education. 

It’s being called a ‘Day of Action’ and several school districts, mostly in eastern Kentucky, have canceled classes so teachers can participate. Some districts, like Owensboro, are holding regularly scheduled classes but sending delegations of teachers. The Owensboro Education Association is planning to send 21 teachers.

Kentucky teachers are opposed to many of the proposals in Governor Matt Bevin’s pension reform, including cuts to cost-of-living adjustments for retired teachers. Proposals are also for future teachers to have a cash-hybrid retirement plan, which is a combination of a 401-K style plan and the traditional defined benefit plan, commonly called a "pension." The hybrid plan is less generous than the current guaranteed pension.

The latest rally comes at a crucial time as lawmakers prepare for final negotiations on a new state budget, and as Republican Gov. Matt Bevin tries to revive a stalled bill to overhaul the state's public pension plans. Bevin's sales pitch angered many teachers, who bristled at his recent remark that teachers opposing pension changes were "ignorant" and "throwing a temper tantrum."

Bevin has toned down his rhetoric since, saying in a weekend message that he had "tremendous respect" for teachers even as he continued to push for the pension overhaul.

Hundreds of teachers rallied at the Capitol earlier this month as the GOP-led Senate decided not to vote on the pension bill. Wednesday's rally could be bigger, if a late-season storm bringing snow doesn't interfere.

The showdown comes amid growing unrest among public educators nationwide, led by thousands of West Virginia teachers who walked off the job and swarmed their Capitol for nine days earlier this year to secure a 5 percent pay raise.

Kentucky teachers are not fighting for a pay raise but are asking lawmakers not to change their retirement benefits. The state is at least $41 billion short of what it needs to pay the pension fund over the next 30 years. State officials say the pension bill would save taxpayers about $3.2 billion over the next 20 years and stabilize the situation. But most of that savings would come from temporary cuts to the annual cost-of-living raises for retired teachers. The raises would be restored once the system is 90 percent funded. Currently, the system is 56 percent funded.

Plans are for teachers to meet at the Kentucky Education Association in Frankfort for initial presentations, then walk to the grounds of the state capitol for the rally.


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