TEACHER PROTESTS  IN FRANKFORT  3-7-19  1.jpg

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Several hundred red-clad teachers filled the halls of the Capitol on Thursday, anxious that lawmakers could take action on bills they say could harm public education in Kentucky.

Thursday marked the third time in a week and the second day in a row that enough JCPS teachers called out to trigger a closure, or a so-called "sick out."

Districts covering Oldham, Bullitt and Meade counties also called off class Thursday as teachers anxiously watch for action on scholarship tax credits and bills that would change the election process for Kentucky Teachers Retirement System trustees and expand the authority of JCPS superintendents, notably the ability to hire principals instead of school-based decision making councils.

Lawmakers did not take up any of the measures Thursday, although Senate Bill 250, the JCPS legislation, received a second reading and was posted for a possible floor vote Tuesday.

"This is about our children and our future and teachers yet to come," said Carla Young, a 31-year teacher at Mt. Washington Elementary School, as she waited in a lengthy line to get into the Capitol early Thursday.

The area school closures Thursday were not called by a particular group. Tim Hill, an Academy @ Shawnee teacher and a leader in the JCPS Leads group that helped organize Wednesday's "sick out" at JCPS, said his group did not weigh in on whether teachers should call out Thursday, instead leaving that decision up to district educators.

Leaders with the Kentucky Education Association and Jefferson County Teachers Association have spoken against the "sick outs," instead pushing a plan to send small delegations of teachers on leave from interested school districts as a way to boost educators' presence in the Capitol.

"But we are heartened by the spontaneous activism of individual educators," KEA President Stephanie Winkler said in a statement. "Clearly, educators learned the lessons from last spring and understand the power of uniting and advocating for their students and for their profession."

Young, who is the Bullitt County Education Association representative for her building, contacted teachers at Mt. Washington Elementary around 7 p.m. Wednesday and asked them to call in absent for Thursday.

She said watching JCPS cancel class on Wednesday "encouraged" her and others to follow suit, and her fellow teachers didn't need much convincing. Within two hours, Bullitt County Public Schools had called off classes for the day, Young said.

"Most of them had already been reading things on social media and already been saying things," she said. "It wasn't just about me. I didn't do this. They're here because they love kids and they love their profession and want to stand up for it."

Gov. Matt Bevin, who called Wednesday's closure "irresponsible" in an interview with 840 WHAS, declined to comment on Thursday's action by teachers following a press conference in the Capitol rotunda.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said he was disappointed in the action by teachers.

"I think it's disappointing that kids continue to miss learning opportunities," he told reporters after the House adjourned.

In a brief interview with WDRB News earlier Thursday, he said he didn't understand why Oldham County teachers called out Thursday and caused the district's closure.

"There's no committee hearings on education bills," he said. "There's no votes scheduled, so I don't really know."

But Tiffany Dunn, a co-founder of Save Our Schools Kentucky and a teacher at Lassiter Middle School, said Osborne should know exactly why teachers stormed the Capitol since she talked to him Thursday morning.

"I let him know that we're here because we're scared," said Dunn, who lives in Oldham County and is one of Osborne's constituents. "We're scared for our public schools."

She noted that Osborne signed on as a co-sponsor of House Bill 205, the scholarship tax credit bill that would make $25 million in tax credits available to donors who give to groups that award private-school scholarships. Supporters say the measure would help kids who struggle in traditional school settings while opponents believe it would lead to fewer students in public schools and, as a result, lower per-pupil funding from the state.

Osborne said he didn't believe lawmakers on the free conference committee, which did not meet Thursday, shared "a lot of sentiment for" including scholarship tax credits in House Bill 354.

"I know there are a couple of people that are interested in that, but there's not been a push for it yet," he told reporters.

Many teachers fear that the legislation could be included in a tax bill currently being negotiated by a free conference committee of House and Senate members. However, House Majority Floor Leader John "Bam" Carney, a Campbellsville Republican and sponsor of HB 205, has said the measure does not have enough support to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass such tax bills in the House in non-budget sessions.

Osborne "is the representative of one of the highest performing school districts in the state of Kentucky, and his job should be to protect those public schools and those children, the children of his constituents," Dunn said.

"As much as I respect him and like him, I'm very disappointed in his decision to sign on to this bill," she said.

Daniel Wise, a teacher and band director at Seneca High School, said Thursday's demonstration shows that educators are "united and that we're ready to show up to fight for public education, fight for funding." One of the signs he held read "Will teach for funds!" above a tin cup while the other had a glass jar with some change under "Spare change? Need to fund my classroom!"

Wise didn't call out absent Thursday. Seneca was still waiting for direction from KY 120 United by the time JCPS officials canceled classes around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"I was a Ron Paul supporter in 2008," Wise said. "I'm really familiar with grassroots things, and I think it's really cool that we could rally together."

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Education Reporter