Thousands of Ky. educators rally for lawmakers to overturn Gov. - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Thousands of Ky. educators rally for lawmakers to overturn Gov. Bevin's budget, tax vetoes

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – As lawmakers came back to the Capitol to consider overriding Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget and tax vetoes on Friday, thousands of teachers from across the state were there to greet them.

Lawmakers ultimately overturned the vetoes, meeting the demands of many who showed up and demonstrated. Some, however, cheered Democrats who voted against overriding Bevin's budget and revenue vetoes.

Many educators and advocates are asking the General Assembly to overturn Bevin’s budget and tax vetoes, and several school districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools, called off classes on Friday, some due to expected teacher absences and others to allow educators time to travel to Frankfort.

The Jefferson County Teachers Association had asked their members to take personal days in order to attend Friday’s demonstration, and ultimately more than 2,500 of the 6,600 Jefferson County Public Schools teachers had called in absences and closed classes.

Thousands swarmed the Capitol grounds, rallying their supporters to make their voices heard in the closing days of this year’s legislative session.

Michael Sturgeon, a teacher at the Academy @ Shawnee, said he hopes Bevin and legislators take notice of the concerns of educators.

Overriding Bevin’s veto on the budget, he said, would provide clarity for schools as they head into the upcoming school year. Lawmakers appropriated $4,000 per student for schools, the most in history, but also cut or eliminated funding for a number of other education programs, such as professional development for teachers and state support for a JCPS school for teenage mothers and their children.

“We are aware of what’s going on, and I’m hoping that they understand we put them in office and they are working for us, so they need to understand what our needs are as well,” Sturgeon said while waiting for Friday's rally on the Capitol steps to begin..

Lisa Hirsch, a family resource center coordinator at J.B. Atkinson Academy, said she was happy that lawmakers put more money into Family Resource and Youth Services Centers in the two-year spending plan vetoed by Bevin and that those funds should be restored by overriding that veto.

“It’s all up in the air again,” she said from outside the Senate chamber, noting previous iterations of the budget would have cut some FRYSC funding.

Police were slowly filtering red-shirted teachers and supporters into the Capitol on Friday, but if Chris Arrington, Hirsch’s husband and a teacher for students with emotional-behavioral disabilities at J.B. Atkinson, had his druthers, educators would have made their presence felt at the statehouse throughout the veto break.

He was among about 20 JCPS teachers who traveled to Frankfort on Tuesday, the day Bevin signed a pension reform proposal that has also drawn the ire of educators. The legislation would move future teachers into a hybrid cash balance retirement plan, which combines aspects of defined-benefit and defined-contribution pensions, and disallow teachers from counting unused sick leave toward retirement eligibility, among other changes.

“We’re worried about apathy setting in after time passes, that teachers won’t stay as energetic and motivated, and that’s what worries us,” Arrington said, noting he wanted to see greater levels of education funding in the budget.

“We appreciate they’re here, but if we don’t get what we want, I’m wondering if we will have the fortitude to be here on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday,” he added. “Will we follow the lead of other educators in West Virginia or Arizona?”

Teachers in Arizona have been promised a 20 percent pay raise by 2020 after demonstrating for weeks, and West Virginia educators went on strike for nine days and secured a 5 percent increase for their salaries.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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