Angry teachers crowd Capitol Annex over pension board bill
Leaders of the advocacy group Kentucky 120 United, composed largely of teachers, say they are “prepared to strike” if the General Assembly moves on several issues, including charter schools and scholarship tax credits.
“We, the Public Employees of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, are prepared to strike for the betterment of our state, the survival of our communities, and the economic security of our families if the Kentucky General Assembly does any of the following,” said a statement from the group posted Sunday that included some demands.
Jeni Bolander, a leader in the group in Lexington and a Fayette County teacher, told the Herald-Leader Monday that “we have to wait on them to move because that’s basically how ultimatums work.”
“We’ve given them the lines in the sand, so if they move, we move,” said Bolander. “The ball’s in their court.”
Officials from the Kentucky Education Association declined to comment Monday afternoon on the new strike threat.
Kentucky law does not allow public employees to strike but teachers in the state have held “sickout” days to protest legislative issues.
The Kentucky 120 United statement posted Sunday cited as cause for a strike an attempt to provide scholarship tax credits for private schools which it said would reduce public money available to public schools, attempts to create a funding mechanism for charter schools. attempts to reduce defined benefit pension benefits to public employees, attempts to remove new and future school employees from the inviolable contract and attempts to reduce salaries of public employees.
“These are our lines in the sand. Enough is enough,” the statement said.
Classes on Feb. 28 were canceled in Fayette, Jefferson and other school districts following Kentucky 120 United’s call for a sickout. Teachers said they were concerned about several pieces of legislation, including one that would restructure the board that oversees the Teachers’ Retirement System.
House Bill 205 is on the agenda for the Tuesday meeting of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee for discussion only, not for a vote.
Earlier on Monday, superintendents across the state held news conferences saying they opposed House BIll 205 because a scholarship tax credit program would take money from an already underfunded public school system
The Kentucky 120 United statement on Sunday said the group had “ exhausted all methods of communication with our legislators” and that lawmakers had continued to “ ignore our pleas to end these attacks.”
“They continue to ignore our plea for new sources of revenue (casino gaming, medical marijuana tax, etc) to secure the public pensions and prevent the constant cuts to vital services. For the past year we have actively and diligently worked with both political parties to develop a permanent solution to no avail,” the statement said.
Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said in a floor speech Monday that he hopes lawmakers will not consider scholarship tax credits.
“That would remove $25 million from our already cash-strapped public schools.,” he said. “That is not something we can afford for a system which we have not fully funded for more than a decade.”
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he has not seen the demands of KY 120 United. Regarding scholarship tax credits, Stivers said there’s a bill in the House that deals with that issue but noted neither the House nor Senate version of this year’s tax bill, House Bill 354, contains the credits.
The House and Senate are expected to form a conference committee Tuesday or Wednesday made up of members of both chambers to try to iron out differences between the chambers’ tax plans. Stivers said he would not want to speculate on what the conference committee will do, “but I’m sure there will be a discussion about multiple issues.”
Charter schools is one issue Kentucky teachers have been watching carefully. The General Assembly approved charter schools in Kentucky for the first time in 2017, but no charter schools have opened. Potential operators say they are in limbo. That’s because in 2018 and so far in 2019, the General Assembly has not approved a funding mechanism for charter schools.