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Kentucky public school teachers rallied in the state capital on March 21, 2018 to protest proposed cuts to their pensions. (Photo: Karolina Buczek/Twitter)

Called 'Selfish' by GOP Governor, Kentucky Teachers Protest Proposed Pension Cuts at State Capital

"A pension is a promise," teachers declare

Jessica Corbett

For the second time this month—and in the wake of recent dramatic protests in West Virginia—hundreds of Kentucky public school teachers rallied at the state capital in Frankfort on Wednesday to protest a bill that would slash their retirement benefits, chanting, "a pension is a promise."

The teachers are protesting Senate Bill 1, which would reduce retired teachers' annual pension raises until the Kentucky Teacher's Retirement System is 90 percent funded.

"According to an actuarial analysis of an earlier pension bill, it will take at least 20 years before KTRS is 90 percent funded," the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. "It now has 56 percent of the funds it's expected to need for teachers' future pension checks."

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has warned (pdf) lawmakers that the bill, if passed, "would violate the inviolable contract that you, the General Assembly, made with Kentucky's public employees"—a promise "that, in exchange for their public service, they would be guaranteed certain retirement benefits." Breaching the contract, he said, would result "in numerous lawsuits against the Commonwealth—lawsuits the Commonwealth will lose."

The demonstration on Wednesday followed incendiary comments by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who last week accused the teachers opposing the pension cuts of being "ignorant" and "remarkably selfish," and "throwing a temper tantrum."

While Bevin later walked back those remarks, on Tuesday he accused opponents of the cuts of displaying a "thug mentality." In response, the governor was prominently featured on some of the protesters' signs at the rally:

"Our people here in Pike County have been chomping at the bit to get down there and voice our displeasure," Patricia Lea Collins, who helped organize the protest, told the Herald-Leader. "The support we have from our community is unreal, and they agree with us that we need to take a stand."

Collins, who works as the Head Start and preschool director for Pike County Schools, added that the governor has "underestimated Eastern Kentucky," where several districts canceled school on Wednesday because of the demonstration at the capital.

Morgan County High School's Twitter account shared a photo of some of its teachers in Frankfort and thanked them for "fighting for all aspects of public education."

Some teachers told a local reporter that they were marching on the capital not only to protest cuts to teacher pensions, but also student programs.

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