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Kentucky Districts Close After Angry Teachers Call In Sick With 'Pension Flu'

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More than 20 school districts across Kentucky closed on Friday, after thousands of teachers, furious over the passage of a controversial pension reform bill, called in sick or requested substitutes. 

The pension overhaul bill (which was tacked on to a bill about sewer system regulations) raced through both the state house and the senate in just a few hours on Thursday, on its way to the governor's desk at 10:30 pm. The Republican governor has said he supports the bill, which has been vehemently opposed by the state's teachers' union. 

The legislature's original proposal was to cut yearly cost-of-living increases for retired teachers from 1.5 percent to 1 percent until the pension system is 90 percent funded—it's currently 56 percent funded—and change how long current teachers must work until they receive pension benefits. But a wave of teacher outcry and protests effectively stopped that proposal; the bill that passed the legislature does not include those provisions.

New teachers, however, would now be placed in a retirement plan that's a mix of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style plan. According to the Associated Press, the bill guarantees that those teachers will get back all of the money they and taxpayers contributed to their retirement accounts, plus 85 percent of any investment gains. The state would keep the other 15 percent. 

However, the bill removes new teachers from an "inviolable contract" that would protect them from future benefit changes, leaving many educators worried about the future of the profession. The bill also limits the number of sick days teachers can accumulate to put toward their retirement pay. 

Kentucky's pension is one of the worst funded in the country with more than $40 billion in liabilities. According to the AP, lawmakers expect this bill to save $300 million over the next 30 years. 

According to the Courier-Journal, teacher absences forced more than 20 school districts, including some of the largest in the state, to close schools Friday. At least one, the Madison County district, explicitly tied the closure to the protests.

"We share a passion for our students and for their futures that is unmatched and unwavering," the statement read. "Tonight we have to balance that passion with the need to stand in solidarity with others in our profession across this state." 

Many schools across the state will be on spring break next week. 


More on Teacher Uprisings Across the Country:

Image: Teachers and other school workers rally against a proposed pension overhaul bill outside the state capitol on March 21 in Frankfort, Ky. —Bruce Schreiner/AP

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