Image: AP

Schools in over 20 Kentucky counties have announced closures on Friday as teachers across the state protest a last-minute bill passed by the Republican-led legislature that overhauls the state’s struggling pension system.

Provisions changing the state’s pension benefit system were quietly tacked onto a sewage bill yesterday afternoon, and it moved to the governor’s desk last night, making it fairly unlikely that anyone had time to fully read its nearly 300 pages. Kentucky’s pension system is billions of dollars in debt, but raising revenue to pay off that debt never really seemed to be on the menu for Republicans. A brief explanation of the bill, from CBS News:

The bill removes some of the most vilified provisions of previous proposals. Current and retired teachers, who are not eligible for Social Security benefits, would still get annual raises of 1.5 percent in their retirement checks. And current workers would not have to work longer to qualify for full benefits.

But new hires would be moved to a hybrid plan. They would be guaranteed to 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.

“Think about that. That’s insane,” Republican Rep. Chad McCoy said.

But the bill would also remove new teachers from an “inviolable contract” that would protect them from future benefit changes. Retired educators like Carlotta Abbot worried about how it would impact the future of their profession.

Women make up 78 percent of Kentucky’s teachers, and over a thousand of those teachers called in sick today, joining a wave of strikes in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma. Many headed for the state capitol in Frankfurt, where they are protesting both the bill and its secretive, lightning-fast passage, which made no time for public comment or analysis.

“I’m concerned that what we’re doing is illegal,” Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne, told the Courier-Journal. “We need an actuarial analysis. There is no actuarial analysis ... We have a 291-page document put before us without any input whatsoever from the stakeholders.”

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Bevin, who also recently proposed devastating cuts to K-12 and university funding, has called teachers’ protests to his proposed changes “short-sighted” and “selfish,” referring to their anger over the potential slashing of their benefits as “a group of people just throwing a temper tantrum.” He also accused them of having a “thug mentality.”

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The Jefferson County Teachers Union called the bill unconstitutional and plans to sue, claiming the legislature broke state law by passing it without the required actuarial analysis. Attorney General Andy Beshear has also said he will sue to block the bill from taking effect.