Kentucky House Passes Pension Bill Aimed At New Teachers

The Kentucky House passed a bill Thursday to change retirement benefits for new teachers hired starting next year as Republican lawmakers confronted the politically volatile pension issue.

GOP lawmakers said the measure would relieve some pressure on the state’s troubled public pension plan for teachers but won’t solve its massive unfunded liability.

The bill would not affect teachers already enrolled in the retirement system.

“It stops additional personnel being added onto that already-overburdened load in the legacy system,” said Rep. C. Ed Massey, the bill’s lead sponsor.

Instead, the bill calls for new Kentucky teachers hired starting in 2022 to be placed into a new “hybrid” pension tier blending defined benefit and contribution components. It would mean that teachers hired starting next January would contribute more toward their retirement benefits.

The measure didn’t provoke an outpouring of opposition from educators, unlike a past effort by Republican lawmakers to change the teacher pension system. In 2018, the legislature passed a bill to put all new teacher hires into a hybrid pension plan. Thousands of teachers protested at the statehouse and the Kentucky Supreme Court struck that law down.

Massey crafted the new bill with input from educators’ groups. When asked to weigh in Thursday, key teachers’ groups said they preferred continuing the current pension structure.

The Kentucky Education Association’s board hasn’t yet had a chance to formally review the measure and stake out a position, said KEA President Eddie Campbell.

Offering a review Thursday, Campbell said that, under the bill, newly hired teachers would “have to work longer and pay more for a lower guaranteed defined benefit upon retirement.” He raised concerns about the bill’s impact on recruitment to overcome the state’s shortage of educators.

“Instead of addressing that problem by trying to make the profession more attractive, we are here today discussing a pension reform bill that will most likely reduce retirement benefits for future hires,” he said.

Democratic lawmakers complained the measure was being rushed and would amount to a benefit cut for new teachers. The bill cleared the House on the same day it was heard in committee.

“We should be talking about paying our teachers more,” said Democratic Rep. Patti Minter. “And that should be the thing that we’re rushing through.”

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