A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Teachers gather in Frankfort for march on Capitol for voice on state budget as lawmakers convene

This story will be updated throughout the day.

Staff report

Traffic jams in Frankfort early this morning, long lines of cars at Interstate off-ramps, the Capitol parking garage already filled and crowds already gathered around the Kentucky Education Association building — all signs of a major gathering of teachers for protests as lawmakers address a state budget.

Teachers starting to gather about 7 a.m.

A rally and march of the state’s teachers started at KEA headquarters in Frankfort before heading to the state Capitol. Lawmakers reconvened to discuss and perhaps vote on a two-year operating budget.

Traffic jam on the Interstate

Some school districts cancelled school today for lack of substitutes for absent teachers. Much of the state is on spring break. Every school district but one in Eastern Kentucky was closed today. Covington schools announced that they would have lunch available for students to pick up.

KEA President Stephanie Winkler said last week — reported in a story in the NKyTribune — that if the budget is not in the best interest of public education, students and public service, “then we will react.”

Hundreds of teachers filled the Capitol Friday to protest last-minute changes to their pension system. Kentucky’s pension system is among the worst-funded in the country but the legislature has sent a pension bill to the Governor for signature over teacher objections.

Today’s rally, however, is about the budget and funding for public education.

Crowd growing — 8 a.m.

An estimated 5,000 protesters were on hand.

Kentucky Today’s Tom Latek reported that 
the pension bill narrowly passed the House on Thursday, 49-46, and Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, a retired history teacher at Frankfort High School who voted against the bill, spoke with protestors on his way into the Capitol on Monday morning.
 

He said he didn’t like the process of how the pension bill suddenly appeared on wastewater legislation.  “This was a deal probably worked out a very long time ago and they waited until the very last minute, thinking it wouldn’t matter.


“All they have done is awaken a sleeping giant, so those who have been impacted by this bill have shown up to demonstrate their contempt for what happened last week.”


Janis Barton, a retired teacher from Middlesboro who now lives in Madison County, said that while she will be impacted by the legislation, “I’m more concerned about the future of education.  I think charter schools and hurting the pension of future teachers is going to destroy public education in Kentucky.”


She added she was upset at the way the legislation was passed, “under the cover of darkness.  If this is such a great bill, why wasn’t it brought out into the open, instead of the sneakiness?”


Pam Sanchez, a first-grade teacher in the Boone County Schools, said her district was not on spring break, but was one of the ones who closed today.  She said her administrators have been supportive.


She explained why she drove to Frankfort.  “I’m concerned about cuts in funding for our students, and the programs they need.”


Sanchez was also concerned about the way the legislation was adopted.  

“They were trying to pass it without informing everybody and giving an opportunity to read the entire document and make an informed decision.”


The teachers also received encouragement from Attorney General Andy Beshear, who told them to “be loud, make your voices heard.  Tell them either they’re going to repeal that bill they passed, or you will not re-elect them.”


Beshear has vowed to file suit against the bill as soon as Gov. Matt Bevin signs it, saying Senate Bill 151, “violates the ‘inviolable contract’ made decades ago with our teachers and social workers.  It illegally cuts their benefits, it harms teachers and, in the end, it is not legal under the law.  We will have our challenge and I believe we will be successful.”

Today is the 58th day of the 60-day legislative session.  Lawmakers are scheduled to recess until April 14, according to the latest schedule from the LRC.        

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