(pictured above: University of Kentucky Senior and future educator Tyler Hartz)
by Brian Washington
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Eighth grade science teacher Shanna Byrd’s student loan debt is about equal to her annual salary. By Byrd’s calculations, she expects to pay off all of her student loans by the year 2036. That’s about 21-years from now—when she should also be eligible to retire.
Unfortunately, that’s about the time when state officials say the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS) will run out of money.
“I’m anxious and really scared,” said the 30-year-old Byrd, one of the state’s young and talented educators with a Master’s degree and 7-years experience. “My husband, who works as a mechanic, and I have two children and we don’t have a whole lot of money to put into other retirement funds.”
KTRS has a $9.1 billion pension shortfall that lawmakers will have to wrestle with when they come back into session in January. If they don’t close the gap, pension officials say KTRS is going to run out of money in 21-years.
The problem is so serious that it has prompted the state’s current and outgoing governor, Steve Beshear, who educators say has been a friend to them while in office, to establish the KTRS Funding Work Group. The 23-member panel, which is made up of policy and education leaders, is looking for a solution that will allow the state to honor its commitments to the 45,000 retired and 75,000 active educators who have paid or continue to pay into the system.
“I want lawmakers to honor their commitment to educators and close this funding gap. Educators who have dedicated their lives to serving children deserve some sort of retirement security,” said Byrd, who believes this issue impacts more than just those who are nearing retirement or have already retired.
Right now, we have a shortage of teachers. If the people coming up, the younger people going into the profession, if they learn there won’t be any money left in their pensions, there’s a higher chance that our children could lose out on the best and brightest educators.
Tyler Hartz, another talented educator and senior at the University of Kentucky, along with Byrd, recently testified before the KTRS Funding Work Group. Hartz, who wants to be an English teacher after he graduates, told the panel the state’s pension problem is already giving students second thoughts about teaching in Kentucky.
“Many of the students I go to school with are going to be fantastic teachers,” said Hartz. “And I know personally many of them are thinking about going to other states. People are scared.”
“It’s the young educators who are going to be affected by the state’s pension problem. There’s enough funding for about 21 years. It will start running out just as I am starting to think about retirement.”
Both Hartz and Byrd are participating in the “Close the Gap” campaign, launched by the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), which represents thousands of educators across the state.
The campaign encourages people to contact their legislators and urge them to work with educators to find a suitable solution to the funding gap problem before our children lose too many good teachers.
“Kentucky has made a lot of improvements over the past decade with our education system and I think we have a lot to be proud of,” said Hartz. “But if we lose too many good teachers, we’re going to go down instead of up.”
“I didn’t go into teaching for the money,” said Byrd. “I went into it because I love helping students. However, with the teacher shortage, and now this, if we’re not careful, good teachers are going to leave and our students are going to end up paying the price—a huge price.”