2018-04-11 / News

Kentucky teachers plan another rally for state education funding

By BRUCE SCHREINER
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE

Kentucky teachers who rallied last week at the state Capitol to support education funding plan to be there again Friday when state lawmakers reconvene to 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.

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.

“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,” he said. “That’s a fight not only about our educators. It’s about our children and families.”

Caulk didn’t 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 Gov. 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.”

Collins predicted the district would send a large group of teachers and staff to the Capitol on Friday.

Thousands of Kentucky teachers and other school workers swarmed the Capitol at last week’s rally, forcing superintendents in districts not on spring break to cancel school. Some school administrators have accompanied their teachers and staff to rallies in a show of solidarity.

The statewide teachers union had called on Bevin to spare the budget and revenue bills, which include no pay raises for teachers but substantially increase education funding.

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 would 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.

The Kentucky Education Association denounced Bevin’s vetoes as another example of “his blatant disrespect for Kentucky’s public employees.” The Jefferson County Teachers Association, which represents Louisville educators, urged its members to take a personal day Friday to come to the Capitol and urge lawmakers to override the vetoes.

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 elsewhere 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 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.” House and Senate leaders set aside for this debate.

Just as their revenue plan is wrong for Kentucky, so, too, is their budget. At a time when the state’s per-pupil amount for elementary and secondary education is still lower than it was a decade ago when adjusted for inflation, this budget proposes to give our students a single dime more every day they are in class during the next two years. Two dollars extra every month is just not enough to give them what they need to succeed.

This budget has further bad news for our postsecondary schools, which will see their overall spending reduced by 6.25 percent. While it is true that they will be able to compete for much of the money being cut, the performance-based funding formula being used tilts heavily against some of our regional universities. I believe strongly that, if we go down this path, our public universities should be judged against their own high standards, not against others that have different missions.

While the General Assembly was debating these two bills, thousands of teachers were rallying just steps away against the unnecessary and misguided public pension bill and for more funding for public education. It was the largest rally at the Capitol in 30 years, and I was extremely pleased to see so many fight for what is right, I want them to know I am committed to doing all I can to fix it, because if this bill is allowed to stand, it could cause irreparable harm to the teaching profession and make it tougher to attract the kind of local and state public workforce we need.

For now, legislators are set to return to Frankfort on Friday and Saturday this week to complete our work. Most of our focus will be deciding whether to override any vetoes by Governor Bevin, but it is likely that more bills will be passed as well.

One veto he made on Thursday will definitely need to be addressed. Otherwise, our schools and local governments will be hit with a 50 percent or greater increase in their retirement costs next fiscal year because of much more conservative estimates by state retirement officials.

The legislation we passed would phased in this steep increase over the next five years. The governor said he supports the phase-in, but cannot accept additional language allowing quasigovernment agencies to leave the retirement system if they pay what they owe over the next few decades.

Whatever happens in these final two days, the 2018 legislative session has already become one of the most memorable in years. The people are making sure their voice is being heard, and those who aren’t listening may find themselves with more time in the not too distant future to think about what they have done to stop Kentucky’s progress.

I really appreciate those who have reached out to me over the past several months. Although our time passing laws is about over, it is never too late to let me know your views or concerns. If you’d like to write, my email is Angie. Hatton@lrc.ky.gov, and you can leave a message for me at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

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