Education

‘It’s crazy.’ Kentucky Gov. Bevin criticizes teachers for new sickout tied to tax credit

Gov. Matt Bevin rebuked Jefferson County teachers whose reported sickout closed public schools Wednesday while an advocacy group member said there were no plans for a similar protest in Lexington.

Although Louisville schools, the state’s largest school district, closed following excessive teacher absences Wednesday that couldn’t be filled with substitutes, Fayette schools remained open. There was no repeat of the teacher sickout that canceled classes late last month.

And there weren’t plans for a repeat in Lexington — yet. Jeni Bolander, a Fayette County teacher who is a leader in the educator group Kentucky 120 United, told the Herald-Leader Wednesday, that “at this point, “ there were no plans to call for a sickout for Fayette educators on Thursday.

“But that could change depending upon what happens in Frankfort,” she said. Instead, teachers have been working with principals to send a delegation from every Fayette school to Frankfort, Bolander said.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, on a Louisville radio show Wednesday, said that the Jefferson County sickout was orchestrated by “a handful of activists” who are more interested in power, personal interests, money and union dues than students.

The Courier-Journal reported that Jefferson County teachers appeared to be staging a “wildcat” move, carrying out a sickout even though Kentucky 120 had urged members to go to work.

Public school teachers in Jefferson, Fayette and other districts have opposed a scholarship tax credit program that they fear would harm public schools.

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Under House Bill 205, businesses and individuals could receive a tax credit for their donation to a scholarship-granting organization. The organizations would then provide private school scholarships to low- and middle-income students across Kentucky.

Bevin has pledged to sign the school choice bill into law.

Bevin, appearing Wednesday on the Leland Conway radio show on Louisville’s WHAS-AM, blamed the Kentucky Education Association and then the Jefferson County Teacher Association for the sickout closing schools. He also touted the bill.

Bevin noted most teachers in Kentucky are focused on students.

“It’s crazy to me,” Bevin said of the Louisville sickout. “It’s so irresponsible that we are not putting families and the children first.”

“The reality is this,” said Bevin. “This tax credit allows those who have been blessed with resources to be able to give those to someone else to help them use for their child a different alternative.”

He noted that the total tax breaks would be capped at $25 million a year.

Bevin said parents should have a choice where to send their children. But he said he was not saying private schools are better than public schools.

Superintendents have joined teachers in criticizing the scholarship bill provoking the protest, claiming it would hurt financially strapped public schools. However, the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents said Wednesday that teachers should not use sickouts in protests.

“With the best interest of our students in mind, we urge teachers not to participate,” the statement said.

Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler said she has not asked teachers to stage a sickout. She’s hopeful that school superintendents will send groups of educators to Frankfort.

Winkler said on Facebook Live Tuesday afternoon that teachers were watching movement on House Bill 205 and other legislation.

“There’s lots of ... shady shenanigans that can happen at the nth hour at the end of a session when they feel they are going to run out of time,” Winkler said. She said her group was worried that lawmakers might attach the scholarship tax credit legislation — which members oppose — to any one of a number of bills that they support. “That’s why we have to be watchful,” she said.

House Bill 205 sponsor, House Majority Floor Leader John Bam Carney, R-Campbellsville, said it did not appear the scholarship plan had enough votes in the House. No vote was taken at a Tuesday hearing on the bill in the House Appropriations and Revenue committee.

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