Kentucky Teachers Rally in Frankfort

Educators from across the state swarmed the Kentucky capital yesterday to protest cuts to teacher pensions and bargaining rights

click to enlarge Teachers rally in Frankfort - Photo: McKenzie Eskridge
Photo: McKenzie Eskridge
Teachers rally in Frankfort

Kentucky state legislators were seeing red April 2 as thousands of educators, students and others poured into the capital city of Frankfort dressed in “red for public ed” to protest Senate Bill 151 — a sewage-turned-pension bill speedily passed through the House and Senate Thursday night that cuts benefits and bargaining power for future teaching hires.

Among those rallying: teachers from roughly half a dozen Northern Kentucky districts that closed due to the protests, including Boone County, Covington Independent, Kenton County and Ludlow Independent. They were joined by teachers from districts like Campbell County and other local districts that were closed due to spring break.

The rally — which Kentucky Education Association (KEA) President Stephanie Winkler publicly called for last Friday afternoon — kicked off in front of KEA’s Frankfort headquarters with speeches from KEA Vice President Eddie Campbell, Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan and several other labor organizers and defenders, including National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle.  

Pringle’s references to W.E.B. DuBois, Mothers Jones and Cesar Chavez and demands for quality education that “inspires imagination” and “unleashes (students’) brilliance” led the crowd to erupt into a thunderous “Forward together, not one step back” chant.

“Enough is enough,” marchers chanted as they progressed toward state headquarters. Inside the capitol building, the active constituents loudly booed officials passing through that voted in favor of SB151 and cheered those that struck it down.

While SB151 is already sitting on Governor Matt Bevin’s desk, April 2 marked the General Assembly’s last day to pass a budget bill and still have time to veto the governor’s decision.

Bevin's original budget proposal contained big cuts to education spending, part of the conservative executive-turned-first-term governor's effort to decrease the size of Kentucky's state government by 16 percent.

Those cuts are part of a larger pattern. Kentucky cut nearly 6 percent from state funding for K-12 public education between 2008 and 2015, according to an analysis by left-leaning think tank Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

click to enlarge Kentucky Teachers Rally in Frankfort
Photo: McKenzie Eskridge

Legislators — perhaps pressured by a building full of voters — did pass a 2018 budget yesterday more favorable to public education than Bevin proposed: Their bill increases spending per student by about $300 and fully funds school transportation cost and employee health insurance — budget line items Bevin sought to push down to local districts and could still veto. The legislation also cuts state funding and tax credits to charter schools and private schools.

In a statement yesterday, Bevin expressed opposition to lawmakers' more education-friendly legislation.

"A fiscally responsible budget does not kick the can down the road as previous governors and legislators have repeatedly done," the statement reads. "I am very concerned that the current proposals from the General Assembly may not meet these basic standards of fiscal responsibility."

A handful of attendees directly warned elected officials that they will not hesitate to follow in the footsteps of West Virginia teachers who successfully shut down every school district and negotiated a 5 percent raise for all state workers. Many marchers brought signs with the words “120 strong,” referencing the number of counties in Kentucky — a promise that widespread protests could continue.

Several national news outlets have reported that Kentucky is striking alongside Oklahoma teachers, who have shut down more than a third of their school districts in demand for living wages. However, while many schools in the state closed yesterday, there’s another factor in play in the Bluegrass State: many Kentucky schools are on spring break this week.

Some schools remained closed Tuesday due to high numbers of teachers calling off, including Northern Kentucky’s Covington Independent School District.