At lunch the other day, I overheard someone say, "Why should teachers be guaranteed a pension when the rest of us are not?"
All things being equal, that would be a good question. However, all things are far from being equal, and here's why:
■ Kentucky teachers do not participate in Social Security or in any other plan, such as a 40l(k).
This was not an option. Teachers are mandated to pay into their pension fund through payroll deduction for the duration of their careers. For many retirees, this will be their only source of income.
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■ Of all professions requiring a master's degree or its equivalent, teaching is by far the lowest paying. Teachers accept the low pay in exchange for a guaranteed retirement income. So, pension income should be seen as deferred compensation that they didn't earn while teaching.
■ Nationally, women comprise 84 percent of the teaching force, which might account for the low pay.
■ Teachers must pay out-of-pocket for the mandated college credits they must earn to have their certificates renewed or to advance on the pay scale.
Tuition at the University of Kentucky is now $376 per credit hour; at Eastern Kentucky University, it is $330 per credit hour. This can amount to an average of $10,000 by the time a teacher has completed all the post-employment requirements.
I don't know of any other profession that doesn't subsidize its professional development requirements.
■ Around 1992, teachers were given the option of retiring with full benefits after 25 years of Kentucky service.
This was initiated in order to hire lower-salaried replacements. Many who retired then are now too old to re-enter the work force should their income be eliminated or drastically reduced.
■ Fifty-two percent of retirees older than 50 are single, as are 85 percent of retirees older than 80.
The extreme under funding of the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System pension fund by the state legislature has been allowed to continue for at least a decade.
Where was the transparency? Why wasn't the alarm button pushed sooner? Why is the public just now learning the facts?
"Borrowing" the teachers' money to fund other projects — with no plan to pay it back — sounds more like theft. This is unconscionable.
We can only hope that clear thinking will prevail and that the legislature soon will take the necessary steps to shore up the teachers' pension system.
It's the least we can do for our teachers.