FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky lawmakers are taking another crack at reforming the Teachers’ Retirement System.

What You Need To Know

  • Kentucky Republicans will propose a new pension system for new Kentucky teachers in the upcoming legislative session

  • The current Teachers' Retirement System only has about 58% of what is needed

  • The new proposal would move teachers hired after Jan 1, 2022 into a new retirement fund

  • Lawmakers are considering more benefits for teachers to make the legislation more enticing

“To those who are listening: we have to do something,” State. Rep. Jim DuPlessis (R-Elizabethtown) said during an interim committee meeting Wednesday to discuss possible reforms.

The Teachers’ Retirement System has $20.8 billion worth of assets as of June 30, but is expected to need more than $35 billion to cover retirees in the future — meaning they only have about 58% of what’s needed.

State Rep. C. Ed Massey (R-Florence) has proposed changing the retirement plan for new teachers to cut into that deficit.

“This bill does not correct Kentucky’s retirement pension issues; it is a step to try to, as I’ve said, stop the bleeding,” Massey said.

The proposal, which has not been officially pre-filed yet for the 2021 legislative session, creates a new so-called “hybrid” plan for teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2022. The plan has a defined contribution portion, similar to a 401(k) plan, and a defined benefit portion, which is more like a typical pension.

The defined benefit portion wouldn’t be as robust as the current system and the defined contribution portion requires more money from the employee.

Due to the Capitol being closed due to COVID-19, members of teacher advocacy group KY 120 United rallied outside in the cold rain to voice their displeasure over the possible changes.

Co-leader Jeni Bolander said the situation was almost like a repeat of protests over pension changes former Gov. Matt Bevin pushed in 2018 — minus the large crowd of teachers inside the Capitol.

“We wanted to let Frankfort know that we are still listening, we are still watching, we are still paying attention, and we are still very involved,” Bolander said.

She also said discussion about the Teachers Retirement System being short on cash is overhyped by Republicans and not as bleak as they make it out to be.

“You all seem to have an awful big axe to grind against something that you don’t seem to fully grasp, and that bothers me a lot,” Bolander said.

Kentucky Education Association (KEA) President Eddie Campbell said the proposal will ultimately result in less money for a teacher when they retire, which will make it harder to recruit teachers in a state where they’re paid less than average.

“I think there’s always an opportunity to have discussions around issues and topics when you’re talking about concepts,” Campbell said. “But ultimately, [KEA’s goal is] ensuring that there is a stable benefit for our post-retirement for educators that are coming into the system so that we can attract the best and the brightest into the profession that are going to be teaching our students for the next generation.”

Teachers do not pull from Social Security, adding another layer of anxiety over possibly changing the system to one that is more reliant on how the financial markets are performing.

Campbell said KEA isn’t taking an official stance on the bill because it hasn’t been finalized yet.

Massey said there could be more benefits included for new teachers when they’re hired to make it more enticing, but again the specifics aren’t there yet.

He said rhetoric surrounding the bill has diverted attention away from the proposal’s true purpose of addressing the deficit.

“We feel like we need some healing,” Massey said. “Over the last several years, there has been animosity, there has been hurt feelings, there has been emotions that have played in, but in the midst of a pandemic we have to pull together as Kentuckians, and we have to find something that will work.”

The economic analysis Kentucky’s Legislative Research Commission usually puts into proposals with a financial impact has also not been completed, which means there’s no state estimate on how much this bill would save.

As the proposal was laid out Wednesday, current teachers and retirees would not be affected.