I come from a long line of teachers on my mother’s side of the family. Mom teaches Kindergarten. Both of her sisters, my aunts, are teachers; one elementary and one high school literature. My grandmother was an elementary teacher and school principal. My grandfather was a beloved basketball coach, teacher, and school board member. The high school gym in my mom’s hometown is named for him.

Many of the skills and talents I possess can be traced back to the best teachers in my life. I am sure this is true for most people.

Karen Kriete was a dance teacher in college who taught me to challenge everything, pay attention to the smallest detail, and refine every movement. She was a one-woman finishing school for ballerinas.

I am embarrassed to admit that I have forgotten the name of the professor who asked permission to submit my paper on Flannery O’Connor to the university literary magazine. It was accepted and published. He helped me identify my propensity for writing.

All it takes is that special teacher to notice the light within you, waiting to be discovered and turned on. Teachers play a crucial role in society, yet they do it for a fraction of what they are worth.

This is one of the many reasons that I am immensely proud of the work my colleagues Tony and Dina Isola do to save teachers from treacherous, high cost annuity products in their retirement plans. They are in the trenches every day, fighting to give teachers a chance to accrue a decent balance their 403b plan. Of all the atrocities committed by Wall Street, gouging the retirement accounts of underpaid teachers has got to rank among the top offenses.

Which is why I was baffled to read this week that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested states should declare bankruptcy amid the coronavirus crisis.

We’re not interested in solving their pension problems for them. We’re not interested in rescuing them from bad decisions they’ve made in the past, we’re not going to let them take advantage of this pandemic to solve a lot of problems that they created themselves [with] bad decisions in the past. – Mitch McConnell

McConnell is saying that he wants states to get out from under the weight of their pension obligations.

Who’s pensions?

The pensions of our undervalued public servants; including police, firefighters, civil servants, and yes … teachers. In this no fault, pandemic induced recession, McConnell is fine with throwing trillions of dollars of stimulus to small businesses and the unemployed. But apparently the government life raft stops with teachers.

I will be the first to admit that states have a pension obligation problem. Promises were made that cannot be met. Billions of underfunded pension liabilities weigh on local and state budgets from Illinois and Kentucky, to Colorado and South Carolina. These plans need major reforms that will include sacrifices by all stakeholders. Retired teachers may forgo cost of living increases, while working teacher agree to work more years and contribute more of their salary. States must contribute more dollars to shore up underfunded plans, required them to raise taxes. It won’t be an easy pill to swallow, but it is the right thing to do.

The time to argue about the size and function of the federal government is not today, during an unprecedented public health crisis. Everyone is suffering economic losses, and fiscal and monetary policy on the federal level is our only option. But of all the choices of who should bear the brunt of this economic pain, in what universe, in what possible way, would blowing up the pensions and livelihoods of teachers be included among our society’s best ideas?

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