Kentucky teachers mobilized late Wednesday night to defend their pension system from a House bill one advocacy group called “as destructive to our pension assets as any bill could be.”
By midnight, their “sickout” protest had forced public schools in Jefferson, Madison and Fayette counties to preemptively cancel Thursday classes due to lack of staff. (Jefferson, home to Louisville, is the largest school system in the state.)
As of 8 this evening, roughly 40% of our school employees have reported that they will not be at school tomorrow, which leaves our district without enough substitutes to cover all of the absences. As a result, all Fayette County Public Schools will be closed on Thursday, 2.28.19.
— Fayette County Public Schools (@FCPSKY) February 28, 2019
The bill at issue, House Bill 525, would reduce the number of educational professionals in the board overseeing teachers’ pensions.
Current law mandates the board consist of 11 trustees: the chief state school officer, the state treasurer, two governor-appointed trustees with investment experience and seven elected trustees representing various educational and public interests.
HB 525 would eliminate the requirement that four of those seven be working teachers, two be non-teachers and one be a teacher receiving retirement benefits. Instead, it would require only five of those positions be filled by nominees from educational organizations; the other two would be an accountant and a banker.
The grassroots advocacy organization KY 120 United posted the following message on a private Facebook group, according to ABC affiliate WHAS:
"The House and Local Government Committee will hear HB-525 — a bill sponsored by Rep. Upchurch that would totally restructure the TRS Board of trustees and nomination process. This bill is as destructive to our pension assets as any bill could be. We’ve been in communication with our association today and we need to take bold action to protect a board process and nominating procedure that has worked for the last 78 years.
Please call in sick tomorrow and text your co-workers to do the same. We need districts to shut down as early as possible this evening. Sup’s have been alerted and are on board. If school is called off — people should get to Frankfort tomorrow, wear read, bring signs, but remember they will not be allowed inside. If HB 525 passes out of committee on Thursday we will stay home on Friday as well.
Retirees, we are asking you do not take sub assignments and stand with us.
The time to act is now, we stand with our Association and each other. You know what to do. Shoulder to shoulder. #120strong "
When contacted via direct messages on Twitter, a 120Strong spokesperson added the protest was not only about HB 525.
“This is about the whole last year,” they wrote. “The way this session has played out. And the need for us to finally push back. We love our communities. Our kids. Public education matters. Period.”
Kentucky teachers last appeared in droves outside the statehouse in April 2018, when they pressured lawmakers to override Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of a state budget that increased school funding and continued to fund transportation and insurance costs. Before that, they had battled over cuts to pensions and benefits.
FROM 2018: Kentucky teachers rally as rebellion grows
Bevin, who at one point said he felt certain children would be poisoned and assaulted as a direct result of class being canceled, would have shifted many of those costs away from the state and onto local districts.