Schools across Louisville hold walk-ins to protest cuts to education funding

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Teachers, students and staff at several schools in Louisville came together Thursday to protest cuts to education funding.

Southern High School was one of several Jefferson County schools that took part in the walk-ins before school ahead of hundreds of teachers heading to Frankfort to rally at the Capitol on Friday.  

The walk-ins were scheduled after Gov. Matt Bevin signed the pension reform bill and vetoed tax and budget bills that impact education funding. The battle over pension reform is heading to the courtroom, but teachers say they are more upset about education cuts. 

Emilie Blanton teaches English at Southern and says this week's demonstrations are to protest those spending reductions. The two-year budget passed by the General Assembly included a record level of per-pupil spending at $4,000 per student, more than the $3,981 per student in Bevin's original proposal, but spending in other education programs were cut. 

"Our legislators listened to the people, they listened to us and made some changes," Blanton said as about 50 Southern High teachers and students waved signs in front of the school, some drivers honking as they passed..

"And then Bevin went through and vetoed it. So we're really hoping our legislators will listen to us again and override that veto, so we can have that fully funded education that needs to happen so we can fund our future."

Munira Yasser attends Southern High School and says she is worried about the future of education. 

"I have siblings as well so it's not just like for me," said Yasser, a senior. "It's for my siblings and my younger classmates. It's not fair to them. They deserve the equal amount of education that I've had in that past, and now they're not going to get that."

About 40 students, teachers and other staff took part in a similar walk-in at Middletown Elementary, holding signs and chanting "fund our schools." 

Jennifer Vowels, a kindergarten teacher at Middletown Elementary, said she and others don't just want lawmakers to override Bevin's budget veto, but also to voice their concerns about cuts to education programs like Head Start, preschools and textbooks. 

"This is detrimental all the way from early childhood up to higher education," she said. "... We want what's best, and Kentucky deserves better."

Vowels and Kerry Minderman, a Head Start teacher at Middletown Elementary, said they're happy to see the support that educators have received in recent weeks as they've demonstrated locally and at the Capitol.

"I've been out in the community just running errands and different things, and when they find out that I'm a teacher, I have heard nothing but, 'We support you. Keep going. We support you,'" Minderman said. "I have heard nobody make any kind of negative comments about what we're doing here."

Several school districts in Kentucky have canceled classes or announced plans to close early Friday because many teachers plan to head to Frankfort to take part in demonstrations. JCPS, at this point, remains open Friday.

The Jefferson County Teachers Association has called for teachers to use a personal day on Friday to make their presence felt at the Capitol.

Yasser, the Southern High senior, said she supports allowing JCPS teachers to travel to Frankfort on Friday to advocate for education funding and overriding Bevin's budget veto, even if that means closing schools that day.

"It's for a good cause," Yasser said. "... We're all here to support that."

Shauna Paul, the youth services center coordinator with Southern's Family Resource and Youth Services Center and former teacher, said she also hopes JCPS cancels classes on Friday. She noted that on March 30, when enough JCPS teachers called in to trigger a district-wide closure, many stayed in Louisville rather than heading to the Capitol to fill backpacks for local children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, something they do every week as part of their Blessings in a Backpack program to ensure those students have food during the weekend and extended breaks.

"I think it would be fair for the schools to be able to support the teachers so they can go," Paul said. "That way if school was in session it wouldn't be complete chaos, so we're able to, again, educate the child the best way we can and keep it a safe environment. It would be best for us to close."

Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.