Teacher “Sickouts” Strike Again. Am I Missing Something?

In case anyone thought we might make it through this legislative session without another walkout or protest, they were wrong. Today, teachers from across the Bluegrass are flocking to our state capital in droves (again) to rally against another controversial retirement policy.

Let me add that I won’t be there. I’ll be teaching about ecosystems to my middle schoolers while the protests are going on, and checking my social media accounts when I have some free time throughout the day. (Ha, who am I kidding. What free time?)

If you haven’t heard by now, the “sickout” began yesterday when it was announced that lawmakers would be reviewing a bill that would restructure Kentucky’s pension board.

Currently, teachers can serve on the board if they’re elected by other teachers around the state, though those candidates are largely determined by the state’s largest teachers association, the Kentucky Education Association (KEA). This change would require greater representation from other groups (read: not KEA), like the Kentucky Retired Teachers’ Association, the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, and the Kentucky Association of Professional Educators, among others.

In other words, if this bill gets passed, KEA won’t have as much influence on the pension board.

The proposed change led the anti-pension reform group KY 120 United to urge its members to call in sick and swarm Frankfort today. The results? Today, the state’s two largest districts, Jefferson County and Fayette County, are both out of school, along with several smaller districts around the state.

While it’s not clear if the bill stands any change of even getting out of committee, Uniters also pledge that they’ll close down more districts tomorrow if it does. In Kentucky, it seems like the only thing more certain than death and taxes is pension reform outrage.

Seeing as though the state’s two largest districts are shut down, it looks like restructuring the pension board crosses the line in the sand for a lot of Kentucky’s teachers. And that leaves me wondering why.

Can someone connect those dots for me? I ask that genuinely, as someone who cares about Kentucky public education and wants to see teachers supported.

After all, I myself am a teacher, so I too am personally vested in this pension debacle. But seeing as though Kentucky currently has the nation’s worst-funded pension system ($33 billion in unfunded liabilities), I get why lawmakers would be more interested in oversight that’s more diverse.

For example, while I myself am not a member of the Kentucky Association  of Professional Educators (KAPE), I received this email from them in support of the new policy. I’m not saying I agree, but they have a point:

As you well know, the Board of Trustees has made numerous errors and misjudgments in investments in recent years. One of those errors was the investment management consultants who consistently gave the Board bad advice– FOR YEARS!!!!  HB 525 levels the field and reorganizes the Board to give representation to ALL the stakeholders who are members of TRS, rather than KEA alone, and includes board members with investment and banking expertise.

As teachers take over Frankfort today, we’ll hear more about the potential restructuring of the pension board and all that it entails. But as of right now, I’m still trying to figure out everything that’s going on here. Are teachers walking out because they don’t want KEA to lose oversight of the pension board, or am I missing something?



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