At the risk of offending the proponents of pension reform to the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, let me share a quote from George Washington about the importance of education.
In December of 1784, Washington wrote, “[t]he best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.” The words of Washington were true then and are true today. Without education, the very foundation of America as a successful and prosperous nation would soon find itself teetering on the brink of extinction.
Over the past weeks and months, Kentucky’s teachers have been subjected to harsh rhetoric and criticism which oftentimes has characterized them as being selfish and only concerned about their own personal best interest at the expense of children. These words could not be further from the truth. Apparently, there are those who believe that unless a teacher is willing to walk off a cliff to solve a pension crisis, which is the result of years of wasteful spending by elected leaders, then these teachers are somehow selfish.
As the father of a public-school mathematics teacher who chose to leave a very successful law practice to teach in Fayette County, I am not only offended on behalf of my daughter, I am offended on behalf of every single teacher across the commonwealth.
The words and criticism were not only hurtful, the words were offensive and fail to consider that teachers choose to teach not as some get rich scheme, but instead, teachers choose to teach to educate the next generation of scientists, engineers, business leaders and the myriad occupations necessary for a successful and prosperous nation and commonwealth to continue to exist.
So why should any of us care about a handful of teachers and broken retirement promises? The reason we should care is that if we are foolish enough to take away promised retirement benefits from today’s teachers, we may soon find ourselves with a shortage of teachers willing to sacrifice so much simply to educate our children.
For every single person who cares about the education of our children, there is a better way to restore the solvency of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. The way to restore the solvency of the retirement system is to end the wasteful and uncontrolled spending in Frankfort and use those dollars to educate Kentucky’s children and pay the retirement benefits which we have promised. With that said, there is an even more unpopular way to restore the solvency of the retirement system is to pass a dedicated tax which would be poured into a pension trust fund, a trust fund which could not be used as a slush fund to pay for unnecessary pork barrel projects which contribute nothing to the future of our children and the success of our Commonwealth.
Although much more could be written in support of Kentucky’s teachers, we need Kentucky’s teachers, more than they need us. If we close the door on today’s teachers and break the retirement promises made, then we should be prepared to suffer the consequences. Hopefully, there are thousands of Kentuckians who would agree that whatever the cost, we cannot turn our backs on our teachers.
As always, I would invite each of you who believe that we need to honor our promise to our teachers to join me on my imaginary mountaintop and help me shout to every state lawmaker that we will not accept broken retirement promises, promises which fill the Commonwealth’s classrooms with dedicated teachers who care about the education of Kentucky’s children.
If you are one of the thousands of Kentuckians who believe that the pension promises to our teachers need to be honored, then please join me on my imaginary mountaintop and help me shout as loudly as possible that if our teachers are abandoned, we will not walk silently into the night, but instead, we promise we will see you in court where we will fight as long and hard as necessary to overturn any legislation which would interfere with the right of our children to an education which will prepare them for the challenges of tomorrow.
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington.