Do KY Public School Teachers Receive Social Security Benefits?
Joseph Brennan, D.S.W., M.Div.
What do you mean they don't receive Social Security, you have to have that wrong? Sorry! But that is the situation. KY public school teachers, like those in thirteen other states, do not contribute to the Social Security fund, and therefore have to depend on the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement (KTRS) fund when they complete their years of public service. What a bargain! The teachers have paid into the KTRS for these many years, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky has not. How do you spell BANKRUPTCY? To make matters worse, the teachers have been maligned in the media as being those "takers", to use a Paul Ryan term, who now want to live a life of luxury at the cost of the taxpayers, (as is they themselves were not taxpayers). But it is hard today to be a selfish mean old "taker", when there is nothing to take, when the government has found it acceptable to use revenues designated by law for retirement for other "needed purposes". Simply put "an unfunded trust, is a trust without funds", and this is KTRS.
But I thought that KY teachers would be covered by Social Security? So did I. But when the Social Security Act was passed in 1935 it excluded federal, state, and local public employees. In 1954, Congress amended the law allowing States to extend Social Security to state and local public employees who were already enrolled in a state retirement program. The State Board of Education and the Kentucky Educational Association formed a committee to examine this possibility. It concluded that extending Social Security would not be in the best interests of the teachers. Their recommendations were to enhance funding for the KTRS. Social Security was a "bad buy" and KY did not wish to spend additional matching funds on Social Security payments. As mentioned, several other states did likewise or created financially complicated state funds.
Subsequent attempts for changes in KY have met with similar results. Our Senate has failed to approve any changes in our teachers retirement system. So here we are, and unfunded KTRS and blaming the teachers for this default. A far more detailed explanation for all this can be found in Chris Tobe's book, "Kentucky Fried Pensions", a must read for anyone seeking insight into the fiscal complexity of KTRS. How does this affect our present and future teacher workforce, or the viability of labor force capable of attracting new investment?
The situation is not promising. Issuing more bonds to cover this fiscal mess is no solution. KY's economic state will only lead to questioning and possible downgrading such bonds. Will KY attract talented teachers once the pitiful status of KTRS becomes public knowledge? If organized labor, especially teachers' unions, have not engaged in the resolution of the entire KY retirement system's funding, now is the time for such action. Will KY's Senate ever respond? A disabled state retirement system will ultimately disable our economic development, and future opportunities for labor growth. Bottom line, teachers will suffer, students will suffer, Kentucky will suffer.