Several school districts across Kentucky shut down Friday as teachers called in sick to protest the passage of a controversial pension bill now heading to the desk of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.
The bill, which passed both chambers of the state legislature, would overhaul the state’s public pension system, mostly affecting teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2019, by moving them from a traditional pension to a “hybrid” plan. The bill also limits the number of sick days teachers can put toward retirement and requires them to work longer before becoming eligible for retirement benefits.
Teachers in the state had rallied against the new pension plan, arguing it it is less generous to teachers and could discourage new teachers from entering the profession. Their protest is the latest in a wave of activism by teachers across the country who — faced with crowded classrooms, budget cuts, personal spending on school supplies and what they see as a general lack of appreciation — are demanding better pay and increased education funding.
Teachers in West Virginia led a strike for nine days in early March, shutting down public schools across the state and ultimately achieving a 5% raise for teachers and other state workers. In Arizona this week, teachers rallied at the state capitol demanding a pay hike. Oklahoma teachers plan to strike on Monday, calling for more pay raises and a reversal of millions of dollars of education budget cuts.
Bevin, a Republican, praised lawmakers for passing the pension bill and not “kicking the pension problem down the road.” While Republicans say the new plan will make the pension system sustainable, Democrats and education groups have described it as “shameful.”
More than 20 counties in the state closed school on Friday because of teacher protests, the Louisville Courier–Journal reported. Jefferson County Public Schools and Fayette County Public Schools, two of the largest districts in the state, were among them. Both districts cited “significant teacher absences” and a lack of substitutes to cover their classes.
Teachers descended on the state capitol on Friday, chanting, “Save our schools,” and, “We’ve had enough.”
“It just broke me,” teacher Lynn Fiechter told the Courier–Journal about watching the Senate vote to pass the bill on Thursday night. She was among hundreds of teachers at the capitol on Friday, many of whom stood under a banner that said, “Kentucky deserves better.”
“We were not just going to sit home,” she said.