Did teachers flunk on Nov. 6? Teachers say no.

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Teacher ire over the Republican pension bill was supposed to trigger a big
Democratic wave last week.

The tsunami was a trickle. But don't blame waning teacher ardor, said Abigail
Barnes, a state House hopeful who lost.

A Paducah attorney who lives in Salem, Barnes disagrees that Democrats failed
to dent GOP supermajorities in the legislature "because the teachers didn't get out and
vote."

Barnes was endorsed by the Kentucky Educators’ Political Action
Committee or 
KEPAC, an arm of the Kentucky Education Association. (The
Kentucky State AFL-CIO also backed Barnes.) 

Barnes said she got strong teacher (and union) support. "Teachers did what they
needed to do.
They just weren't supported by their fellow
citizens."

That's not exactly the emerging media narrative.  

'"We'll remember in November' rang hollow on Election Day," Tom
Loftus 
wrote in the Louisville
Courier-Journal
. The story was headlined, "Teachers get failing grade
on election day." 

Added Loftus: "The threatening chant by teachers and demonstrators against
Republican majorities as they passed pension legislation last spring failed to
carry over...the GOP held on to supermajorities in both the Kentucky House and
Senate."

"Republicans worried the vote would haunt them in November," wrote Adam Beam of the Associated Press. "But...there
was no teacher backlash at the polls. Of the 49 Republican legislators who voted for
the bill and ran for re-election, four of them lost.

"...Eight lawmakers — including five Republicans — who voted against the
pension bill were defeated or are trailing in either the primary or general
election." 

The GOP boosted its Senate majority by one, to 28-10. The
Democrats managed to 
whittle the Republic House edge by only 2 seats, to
61-39.

Stephen Voss, a University of Kentucky political scientist, said the protests
didn't reflect the election outcome because SB 151, the Republican pension bill that
ultimately passed, “did very little to the retirement package for people who
already were retired or who were in the system. 
It’s really hard to
sustain intensity for a movement like that especially when at root the teachers already
won.” 

Retired Murray teacher Marshall Ward said SB 151 was anything but a triumph for
teachers. "It's a defeat. It's divide-and-conquer."

"Current and retired teachers do not believe that SB 151 benefits them," said KEA
President Stephanie Winkler. "They understand that it violates the state constitution
and takes away defined benefits pensions for new hires. This will make it harder to
attract and retain teachers and add to a critical teacher shortage statewide."

In another story, Loftus wrote that the main feature of the bill puts future teachers
"in a 401(k)-like ‘hybrid cash balance’ plan rather than the traditional
pension plan with defined benefits. But it makes many, mostly modest, changes to
the benefits of current public employees.”

The 401(k)-type plan undermines new teachers' "retirement security by making it
dependent on the stock market, and yet [SB 151]...did essentially nothing to reduce the
unfunded liability of the system," said Brent McKim, Jefferson County Teachers
Association president.

"By the bill sponsor’s admission, the impact was less than one percent.
 So the bill harms Kentucky’s competitiveness for attracting and keeping
great teachers and for what?  It’s not worth it for essentially no impact on
the pension debt.  The only way to address the unfunded liability is to make the
full payments."

The state pension system, which includes other public employees such as police,
firefighters and state workers, is at least $43 billion in debt, according to Loftus, who also wrote that the massive protests
at the Capitol forced the Republicans to retreat on proposals that would have deeply
slashed benefits. 

The day after Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, signed SB 151, Attorney Gen. Andy
Beshear, a Democrat, sued to overturn the bill in Franklin Circuit
Court.

The KEA and the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police supported the court challenge by Beshear, who has since
announced his candidacy for governor next year. (House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins was
expected to also toss his hat in the ring today.)

Beshear won the case, but the Bevin administration appealed. The
bill's fate rests with the state Supreme Court.

SB 151 was a converted and unrelated sewer bill. Hence, Voss
agreed that the optics were less than optimum for the GOP.  "If you look at the
symbolism of a pension reform, such as it was, being put into a sewerage bill [it]
looked really bad."  

Voss said the legislation ended up being "more about what future teachers
would face." 
SB 151 “made it a lot harder to fire up all these
people they’d originally whipped up to stop a more sweeping pension
reform. 
Few things are more damaging to the long-term energy in a
movement than victory."  

Ward, a KEA retiree, said the Republican framers of the bill "wanted retirees like
me to think, 'Oh, they're taking care of us. Why should I care about the next
generation of teachers?'"

Ward said eliminating defined pension benefits for new teachers "simply means that
anything can be cut, changed and eliminated when it comes to pensions."

He said the prospect of going under a risky 401(k)-style plan is causing many
college students to give up on a teaching career. "I have called Murray State and
they told me they are already showing a decline in various education degree
programs."

Ward doesn't pull punches. "If I hear one more person say that teachers'
benefits need to be like the private sector, I'll go nuts.

"What benefits? The private sector CEOs have stolen dollars from the worker
since 1972. Wages have been flat, pensions have been eliminated, and health care has
become very expensive."

He says turning the sewer bill into a pension bill "symbolizes all the
disrespect educators have endured since the Reagan years. 
The real story
here is the future of teaching as a profession."

Beam also wrote that the election results have heartened some GOP House and Senate
leaders who are urging their lawmakers to be bolder when the legislature reconvenes in
January.

"My message to Republicans in this election is that you can take a tough vote on a
controversial issue and run for re-election in a difficult environment and still win,"
Beam quoted Damon Thayer, the Senate GOP floor leader. "If you go out and run a good
campaign and explain to people why you vote the way you voted, you're not going to get
punished for it."

Meanwhile, Barnes, who plans to remain active in Democratic politics, said it's time
to stop
scapegoating teachers for her party's disappointing showing on Nov. 6.

"[Teachers have]...had enough of that....They're out on an island as
much as we are."