Opinion
Law & Courts Opinion

Kentucky Teacher Responds to Pension Changes: The Teaching Profession Is ‘Under Attack’

By Jessica Duenas — April 18, 2018 4 min read
The author protested funding changes for Kentucky teachers at the state capitol on April 13, 2018.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“Ms. Dueñas! I’m coming with you!” For me, this is a familiar refrain. My student, Jack, often trails after me. When I start to walk away, saying he has to go to his class, I sense a child in need of reassurance following behind.

Jack is not alone in his daily need for individualized supports from a special educator. He is one of nearly 100 students I teach at Oldham County Middle School in Buckner, Ky., who require services beyond what traditional classroom teachers can provide. Jack can be exhausting, but as his special education teacher, I am his rock and foundation.

Each day, my colleagues and I work tirelessly for our high-needs population. I am overwhelmed with joy when students like Melissa light up and exclaim, “I got it!” after her fifth attempt at a math concept. It is these kinds of moments with our students that make us willing to swim in paperwork and work more than 60 hours a week.

But recent legal action could hinder our ability to do our work long term. Last week, Governor Matt Bevin signed into law Senate Bill 151, which takes away defined pension rights of any Kentucky public school teacher hired after July 1. A guaranteed pension had previously been part of teachers’ inviolable contract with the state. Senate Bill 151 effectively ends this contract for new hires, allowing lawmakers to continue adjusting retirement plans and other benefits in the future. New educators will have a hybrid retirement plan that is part pension and part 401(k).

Teachers nationwide have increasingly needed to rally together to command the attention and respect of lawmakers around their most basic needs."

The new law is problematic because our state’s teachers—the only state workers who do not buy into social security—relied on the former system as a means of financial security for retirement. The new legislation also states that current teachers will now have to use an additional 1 percent of their current annual pay for retiree health-care benefits.

Separately, the governor also vetoed a bill that increases education funding and vetoed the state budget, which provides $300 more in funding per student. Lawmakers later overrode the vetoes—a small sign of progress.

In recent weeks, teachers—myself included—have mobilized across the state. We shut down more than 20 districts throughout the state in sickouts, calling in sick en masse in order to rally at the state capitol on March 30 and April 13. From inside the building, legislators and senators in session could hear us chanting: “A pension is a promise!” and “We’ll remember in November!”

Teachers Initiate Call to Action

The teaching profession is under attack nationwide, as evidenced by this year’s teacher movements in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado. Each call to action is unique to its state’s needs. In Colorado, hundreds of teachers went to the state capitol earlier this week to demand salary increases and better retirement funds. After a statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia and a nine-day walkout in Oklahoma, educators there recently won pay raises and more education funding. Arizona’s teachers are voting about whether or not to strike this week. In my state, educators are asking for more education funding and not to lose their previously promised benefits.

Differences aside, what these movements show is that teachers nationwide have increasingly needed to rally together to command the attention and respect of lawmakers around their most basic needs. What’s more, according to NPR, Kentucky is among 49 states that report a shortage of special education teachers. With the U.S. Department of Labor predicting the need for special educators to go up 8 percent nationwide between now and 2026, it is imperative that special education teachers across the country feel motivated to stay in education and that college-age students look to the special education field as a viable career option.

See Also

Want to know more about how salaries, pensions, and benefits work in schools? Check out our recent explainer on teacher pay.

As an educator who hosts student teachers from the University of Louisville in my classroom, I am well aware that Kentucky’s bill does not spell security for them, neither does it ensure they will want to join us. By playing hard and fast with the funding that will affect special educators’ futures, our representatives are certainly not setting the profession up to look more attractive.

Benefits Are a ‘Due Right’

Since the bill’s passage, I have grappled with many difficult questions. I have asked myself if I need to leave a profession I love because lawmakers don’t have my best interests in mind. I wonder if I will need to take my skill set to another state. But in the midst of this pondering, I will continue to show up every day and give Jack and his classmates my best.

I am deeply disappointed by the lawmakers in every state who have chosen to make mockery of the critical work occurring in our schools. Their actions show they do not deem educators worthy of benefits or pay that should be their due right. In Kentucky’s case, the governor did not ensure that the state has planned accurately for the needs of Kentucky’s future—its children. I believe we are set to create an exodus of teachers and push new ones away.

We need to continue speaking up, writing and calling our representatives, and making our voices heard. I do not only mean teachers. Administrators, families, and anyone in our communities who is involved in the raising of our nation’s children or has ever been touched by a teacher should also take a stand, whatever the issue may be, for those in the classroom.

If we do not keep our teachers and fail to recruit new educators, who will be left to do the critical work in our nations’ schools?

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Justice Sotomayor Denies Bid to Block Vaccine Mandate for New York City School Employees
The Supreme Court justice's refusal involves the COVID-19 vaccine requirement in the nation's largest school district.
2 min read
In this Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020 file photo, senior Clinical Research Nurse Ajithkumar Sukumaran prepares the COVID 19 vaccine to administer to a volunteer, at a clinic in London. British scientists are beginning a small study comparing how two experimental coronavirus vaccines might work when they are inhaled by people instead of being injected. In a statement on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, researchers at Imperial College London and Oxford University said a trial involving 30 people would test vaccines developed by both institutions when participants inhale the droplets in their mouths, which would directly target their respiratory systems.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Oct. 1 denied a request to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees of the New York City school system.
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
Law & Courts Here Are the Upcoming Supreme Court Cases That Matter for Schools
Major cases on school choice and religious schools will be heard, along with a case on whether school boards can reprimand outspoken members.
9 min read
In this June 8, 2021 photo, with dark clouds overhead, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington.
The U.S. Supreme Court's new term opens in early October with several cases that could impact K-12 schools.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Law & Courts Families Sue Rhode Island's Governor to Overturn His School Mask Mandate
The families say mask-wearing threatens to cause serious and long-lasting damage on their children's physical and emotional well-being.
Linda Borg, The Providence Journal
2 min read
Students line up to have their temperature taken as they return for the first time as their school, The Learning Community, reopens to in-person learning after it closed for the pandemic a year ago, in Central Falls, R.I., on March 29, 2021.
Students line up to have their temperature taken as they return for the first time as their school, The Learning Community, reopens to in-person learning after it closed for the pandemic a year ago, in Central Falls, R.I., on March 29, 2021.
David Goldman/AP
Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
The parents argued that their children, due to health conditions, were at particular risk if any of their peers attend school without masks.
David Goodhue, Miami Herald
3 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP