LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – With the General Assembly set to reconvene and wrap up legislative work starting Friday, teachers from across the state will be there to greet lawmakers as they return to the Capitol.
But exactly how many will converge on Frankfort remains to be seen.
Trimble County Schools has already announced it will close on Friday so teachers and staff can be in Frankfort, and the Jefferson County Teachers Association has asked its members to take a personal day on Friday so they can urge legislators to override Gov. Matt Bevin’s vetoes on budget and tax bills that passed April 2.
That’s the day thousands of teachers swarmed the Capitol, many angered over a pension reform bill that passed the week prior and changed retirement plans offered to future educators. Others were worried about budget cuts that had been proposed in previous versions of the two-year spending plan.
JCTA President Brent McKim says he’s already heard from several of the union’s members who plan to take a personal day on Friday. He’s also encouraged JCTA members to be in Frankfort on Saturday, the final day of this year’s legislative session.
“I’ve gotten a fair bit of positive feedback that it was a measured response on our part,” McKim told WDRB News. “It’s an invitation to engage the process using something that doesn’t shut down the schools but does provide a strong teacher voice.”
“We need to override these two gubernatorial vetoes on the budget and the revenue bill,” he added. “Otherwise our schools will lose hundreds of millions of dollars and kids will be hurt.”
It’s unclear exactly how many teachers have taken JCTA’s lead and asked for a personal day on Friday. Jefferson County Public Schools spokesman Daniel Kemp said the district “would currently only know absences of those who are out on a long-term leave” when asked about future teacher absences this week.
He noted that the number of teacher absences on Monday and Tuesday have been “typical or even below average.”
JCPS and 28 other districts closed after many teachers called in sick on March 30, the day after lawmakers inserted pension reform language in an unrelated wastewater bill and hastily sent it to Bevin’s desk.
Most districts that weren’t closed for spring break on April 2 shut down that day as enough teachers called in sick to cancel classes, many of them traveling to Frankfort to take part in a rally organized by the Kentucky Education Association.
Area school districts contacted by WDRB News on Tuesday say they’re monitoring teacher absences but, other than Trimble County, have not called off Friday classes. Henry County Public Schools Communications Director Melissa Blankenship said the district is sending a group of five to 10 teachers to the Capitol on Friday.
Gay Adelmann, co-founder of Save Our Schools Kentucky, says she wants to see districts cancel school Friday in advance and give parents enough time to plan.
As happened March 30 and April 2, Adelmann expects school districts throughout Kentucky will close as teachers take Friday off. Her group and others have reserved space throughout the Capitol that day and Saturday, with space inside limited to 500 per new security protocols.
Save Our Schools Kentucky and co-sponsoring groups like the American Civil Liberties Union will host speakers, offer information on legislation they oppose and possible funding sources for the state’s vital needs and develop messaging strategies, among other planned activities.
“The timing and the momentum building has been stronger this time than it was last time,” she said. “By Friday we believe that all the districts will have closed.”
Adelmann said she supports JCTA’s call for the legislature to override Bevin’s vetoes on the budget and revenue bills.
“I’m not saying we’re happy with it, but these are the things that we’ll be communicating to them Friday and Saturday as well as through the summer and into November,” she said.
Both Adelmann and McKim also said they’d like to see Senate Bill 151, the pension reform legislation, scrapped or retooled as this year’s legislative session comes to an end.
“We really need the governor to veto the pension bill because there's no question it will hurt Kentucky's ability to attract and keep good teachers,” McKim said. “If we don't have a retirement benefit and no social security and other states do, teachers are going to choose other states.”
Bevin announced Tuesday that he has signed SB 151 into law.
Not all school superintendents are thrilled with the prospect of closing schools on Friday.
Spencer County Public Schools Superintendent Chuck Adams said canceling classes could jeopardize his district’s hold of a graduation venue if that ceremony needs to be pushed back.
“I would be very disheartened if I thought our unions would call for a walkout simply because I know the kids would be the ones to the pay the price that day,” he said.
Such a move could also imperil public support for educators, he added.
“I don’t believe it to be in the best interest for us to alienate our supporters of public education by inconveniencing them with an unplanned day out of school while using our students as political pawns,” Adams told WDRB News.
But Adelmann said Kentucky teachers “are a pivotal piece” in a pro-education movement that has swept through other states such as West Virginia and Oklahoma in recent months.
“At some point we have to have some uprising and say enough is enough and stop putting all of the burden on our teachers and expecting them to make up for the cuts that the governor didn’t fund or even the previous legislatures,” she said. “Both parties are responsible. There’s no one saying that it’s one party or the other. The problem is that the problem exists.”
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