Arguing that he understands state government - and that education somehow exists outside of that realm (which is fairly convincing evidence that he doesn't understand state government at all) Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt made a video appeal to Kentucky teachers to keep a cool head. The gist of his message, though not said directly, was "Please don't retire."
The probability that someone from the governor's (or Ed Secretary's) office asked Pruitt to make such an appeal?: I'm thinking 100 percent. Because, well, you know - politics.
Pruitt lumped the governor's million dollar report in with news reports and Facebook and Twitter comments and called them "conjecture" as opposed to "good information." Pruitt did not specify what good information is, but the governor's report contained specifics and recommended raising the retirement age to 65, freezing pension benefits, and forcing current teachers into a 401(k)-style investment plan, while taking away cost-of-living adjustments that retirees received between 1996 and 2012.
"I've been...around state government for a long time, and one of the things I've learned is whatever's being said prior to a session ...sometimes happens; sometimes doesn't," Pruitt said. By this reasoning, every piece of state legislation is conjecture - right up to the moment it is voted upon, at which time it is no longer conjecture, but it is also too late to do anything about it. The message may have been well-intended, but it came off as a bit condescending.
If, as Commissioner Pruitt says, the pension system has been "a mess for a long time," just how much longer should teachers remain calm? Pruitt says, "It's something that we've got to make sure we are being kept up-to-date on, but it's also a reality that there's gotta be more done to fix it."
This pretext tends to soften the ground for bad news and undermine his other, more supportive, comments about how teachers come to work on days they might prefer to stay home sick, and that teachers are not in it for the money, or the pension, but for the children.
While that is certainly true in a broad general sense, none of us chose the profession so that we could work for free. I am sure that Pruitt showed up for his students. But he would not have shown up day after day if he was not being paid a fair wage. He could not have afforded to. We have families of our own to support. Teacher's salaries are just plain average when viewed nationally - and low when compared to other professions that require advanced education. But the only thing that made underpaying teachers acceptable was the pension system. Now, that is in jeopardy, and failing to maintain a strong system will jeopardize countless future Kentucky teachers and students, as well as the state economy.
This is a time to listen. This is a time to learn. This is a time to speak. This is a time to call the governor and your legislators to fully express your concerns. But this is not a time to be calm and engage in magical thinking to conjure up happy endings.
Raising the revenue required to save the pension system does not presently seem to be part of the governor's plan. Governor Bevin claims that he will save the pension system. But his plan, so far, will only save remnants of it. And our legislature has repeatedly shown that, left to its own devices, it will happily content itself to under-fund the pension system and break its promises to teachers.