FRANKFORT, Ky. — All of Kentucky's public schools were closed Monday as thousands of teachers protested a surprise pension reform bill at the state Capitol.
While the majority are of the state's 120 county school districts have spring break this week, 21 school districts canceled because of Monday's rally, either deciding to allow for a day of protest or because a majority of teachers called in sick, a Courier Journal analysis shows.
"The Lee County School District will close schools on Monday, April 2, 2018," one announcement said. "This will allow our public school employees time to travel to Frankfort to advocate for Public Education and school funding at the KEA (Kentucky Education Association) rally. We need to continue to make sure the Legislature puts our students and families first and to search for new sources of revenue to fully fund Public Education."
Counties closed specifically for the rally include Boone, Breathitt, Estill, Floyd, Kenton, Knott, Lee, Letcher, Lewis, Magoffin, McCreary, Meniffee, Morgan, Pendleton, Perry, Pike, Powell, Rockcastle, Whitley and Wolfe. Martin County schools also are reportedly closed, according to WYMT-TV, Hazard, Ky.
► April 2: 'Tired of begging': Teacher rebellion shuts down Okla., Ky. schools
► April 2: Oklahoma teachers are demanding higher wages and more funding
► April 2: Strikes in Kentucky, Oklahoma, West Virginia show women's power
The thousands of teachers here were respectful, not destructive, said Trooper Bernis Napier of the Kentucky State Police. He had no crowd estimates — the (Frankfort) State Journal reported that 5,000 had been expected to attend — but said no one was arrested, no citations were written, and no one was even warned.
Yet the teachers and their supporters were insistent.
Many parents brought their children — babies, preteens, high-schoolers — with them to the protest. A trio of young girls were part of the chanting crowd, excitedly yelling, “This is what democracy looks like!”
Late Thursday, the Kentucky Legislature passed Senate Bill 151 to overhaul the state's pension system. Teachers say they were not allowed public access to the process that produced the 291-page bill, and more than 500 teachers flooded the Capitol the next day to protest.
On Monday, some who had gathered outside state Senate chambers inside the Capitol learned that Republican legislators passed a tax plan that they had just unveiled without going through the committee process that includes public hearings. Democrats said the GOP also crafted this bill, which passed 20-18, in secret meetings that excluded them.
All of the Kentucky Senate's 11 Democrats as well as seven Republicans voted against the plan, the first major change to tax code since 2005. It turns the state income tax into a flat tax, eliminating all deductions including medical expenses, and opens many previously untaxed goods and services to a 6% sales tax.
"People are furious," said retired teacher Lydia Coffey of Liberty, Ky., who filed Monday morning to run as a write-in candidate for Kentucky's 54th District House seat. "It's childish. We've never been disrespected like this."
A secretive process to shore up Kentucky's teacher pension plan, which as of June 30 had almost $27 billion more in future promised payouts than it had in anticipated assets, is only one of the teachers' beefs. They also are worried about state government's overall treatment of public education and its effect on students' ability to learn in crowded classrooms with stretched resources.
Teacher Michele Davis of Jefferson County Public Schools started her day at 6 a.m. ET at the Capitol and still was among about 100 demonstrators who stationed themselves outside the Kentucky House chamber as state representatives deliberated on the fast-track tax overhaul.
She and other teachers had stationed themselves near a parking lot to greet legislators as they walked to the Capitol and ask how they voted on last week’s pension bill.
“They wouldn’t answer us,” Davis said. “I think they’re ashamed of themselves.”
Davis, who teaches at Fairdale High School in the Louisville suburb of Fairdale, said her school has struggled to fill two math teaching positions and warned that any budget cuts could make it worse.
As hundreds of teachers stood outside the Capitol chanting, "No charter schools!" the legislators inside did appear to have dropped a charter school financing provision. As of Monday morning, money for the privately operated yet publicly financed schools had been tacked onto House Bill 366, but the bill came out of conference committee in the morning without the provision.
However, charter school advocates say they still have a chance at getting money in the state's next budget.
The Jefferson County Teachers Association, the union representing teachers, librarians and other educators in the state's largest school district, had encouraged its members to wear red as a sign of solidarity. And many at the rally sported red jackets, hats, bandannas, even some University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University gear.
"We will remember in November," some chanted. All 100 seats in the Kentucky House of Representatives are up for election this year with primary races in May and the general election this fall.
“Cutting our public schools is going to hurt every child, all of Kentucky," said Shannon Maciejewski of Union, Ky., who teaches elementary school in Boone County near Cincinnati.
Thousands of teachers from across Kentucky rally in Frankfort