Teachers are the backbone of Kansas. We work to make sure Kansas children are prepared for their futures every day.
Over the past couple years, we’ve seen major threats to the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, our educational system as a whole, and the fiscal stability of our state. It’s time Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature get their act together and pass a revenue-raising budget so we can pay our bills.
I’ve been a teacher for 21 years, teaching at Wichita West High School. Being a teacher isn’t easy. We are constantly presented challenges throughout the school year, but as professionals we find the ways to make things work. Every morning I wake up, I know that I am about to make a positive difference in my students’ lives.
Unfortunately, teachers in Kansas have been put in an awful position. Some of us have had to purchase our own supplies without being reimbursed for the cost; we’ve seen class sizes increase; and we’ve seen our pension system underfunded – putting the fiscal health of our state at risk. Through all of this, we’ve seen our best and brightest colleagues move on to other states where their retirement security is guaranteed.
Here in Kansas, the average annual pension benefit is $16,197. In Oklahoma and Nebraska it’s $24,575 and $22,921, respectively. This may not seem like a lot of money, but in your retirement years, every bit counts, and we’ve seen some of our best teachers choose to live elsewhere because of it. Factor in our underfunded education system, and you have some real issues affecting recruitment and even retention.
For the past two years, our state has faced near $1 billion budget shortfalls. In response, Brownback has kicked the can down the road when it comes to KPERS. Last year, he didn’t pay anything into the pension system with the promise of paying back the money this year, with interest. This year, he vetoed a budget from the Legislature that paid adequately into our pension fund, because it had revenue-boosting items, including finally taxing LLCs.
Not paying into the pension fund is bad fiscal policy, and in recent years we’ve seen other states struggle with long-term problems. New Jersey and Illinois underfunded their pension systems for years and are now facing large unfunded liabilities.
We haven’t reached that point yet. But the governor and Legislature need to look at raising revenue so we can pay our bills or else we’ll be in dire straits.
I urge everyone to get involved. Let the governor and your state lawmakers know that enough is enough. We need a revenue-raising proposal. Our education system, KPERS, and the fiscal health of our state are truly counting on it.
Dwight Goodman teaches at Wichita West High School.