Kentucky teachers plan another rally for education funding

Posted at 2:48 PM, Apr 10, 2018

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky teachers who rallied last week at the state Capitol to support education funding plan to be there again Friday when state lawmakers consider overriding the Republican governor's veto of budget and revenue measures.

The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents has encouraged local school leaders statewide to send delegations to the rally in Frankfort, said Tom Shelton, the group's executive director. Shelton acknowledged Tuesday that "closing school may be necessary if they have too many staff absent, but that is a local decision."

Meanwhile, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin may have added fuel to fire by signing legislation that alters the state pension program for teachers and other state employees. Bevin announced on WHAS-AM on Tuesday that he had signed the overhaul measure that preserves benefits for most workers but moves new hires into a hybrid plan. Kentucky's pension system is among the worst funded in the country. Opponents worry the changes will discourage young people from becoming teachers.

Teacher protests in Kentucky have been led by the Kentucky Education Association, and Bevin blasted their leadership on Tuesday as "absolute frauds." He noted the Kentucky Education Association opposed the budget as lawmakers were passing it, then asked lawmakers to override his veto.

"They literally are on both sides of the same equation a few days a part. They're phonies. They are not even sincere," Bevin said.

A spokesman for the Kentucky Education Association declined to comment.

Mike Stacy, superintendent of Beechwood Independent Schools in Fort Mitchell, said his district stands to lose $50,000 even if lawmakers override Gov. Matt Bevin's veto. If lawmakers don't have enough votes to override, Beechwood schools would lose $500,000 to $800,000 next year, Stacy said.

Boone County Schools Superintendent Randy Poe warned Bevin's proposed cuts would force the district to lay off 110 staffers.

Districts face a May 1 deadline to budget their staffing levels for next year.

"For me, I just want my staff to have the comfort of knowing they can teach," Stacy said.

In Trimble County, the school district said on its Facebook page that classes would be canceled Friday in the northern Kentucky district to allow teachers and staff to join the rally.

In Lexington, Fayette County schools Superintendent Manny Caulk signaled he would lead the contingent of teachers and staff from the state's second-largest school district.

"I can tell you where I am going and hopefully you will go with me," he said. "We're going to Frankfort on Friday to make our voices heard and to insist the fight for justice, the fight to equity still continues. That's a fight not only about our educators. It's about our children and families."

Caulk did not say whether he would cancel school Friday.

Patricia Lea Collins, the Head Start and preschool director for the Pike County school system in eastern Kentucky, said teachers were "furious" after Bevin announced Monday he would veto a $480 million tax increase and a two-year operating budget.

"It was kind of contentious ... after the governor's press conference," she said. "People here in Pike County wanted to walk out today."

Pike County schools were in session Tuesday, but Collins predicted the district would send a large group of teachers and staff to the Capitol on Friday.

The statewide teachers union had called on Bevin to spare the budget and revenue bills.

The budget vetoed by Bevin included record-high classroom spending, restored funding for school transportation and family resource centers and ensured that teachers who retired after 2010 but don't yet qualify for Medicare will have health insurance.

The revenue plan would impose a 6 percent sales tax on a variety of services like auto and home repairs while cutting the income tax rate for some individuals and businesses.

Bevin's administration has questioned the revenue projections, saying the new taxes would not pay for the spending that lawmakers approved, but would lead to at least a $50 million shortfall over the next two years. Bevin said the budget and the new taxes were not responsible or wise.

Lawmakers could override Bevin's vetoes later this week. The Republican-led legislature is scheduled to convene Friday and Saturday before adjourning for the year.

The unrest in Kentucky comes as teachers across the country are mobilizing to protest low funding and teacher pay along with changes to struggling pension systems.

In Oklahoma, classes remained canceled in the state's biggest school districts Tuesday as teachers walked out for a seventh day. Leaders of Oklahoma's largest teacher's union have demanded a repeal of a capital gains tax exemption. They also want the governor to veto a repeal of a proposed lodging tax as they push for more education funding in massive demonstrations at the state Capitol. The demonstrations were inspired by West Virginia, where teachers walked out for nine days earlier this year and won a 5 percent pay increase.

Collins was unsure whether Kentucky teachers would win more concessions from lawmakers with their rally Friday. The bigger goal, she said, is to influence legislative elections this November and in 2019, when the governor's race will top statewide elections.

"We're going to keep working," she said. "We may lose this battle, but we'll win the war in November of '18 and November of '19."