Teachers in eight Kentucky counties used “walk-in” rallies Thursday morning to protest a Senate bill that cuts teacher retirement benefits in an effort to fix Kentucky’s ailing pension systems.
“Promises were made to us by the commonwealth, and those promises need to be kept by the commonwealth,” said Erin Grace, a teacher at Rockcastle County High School and the president of Rockcastle County Education Association. “We need, as a state, to treat funding for our schools, the services our kids need and the people who devote their working lives to providing those services as a top priority, not as a burden.”
If the rallies happened as planned, teachers and other school employees gathered outside 28 schools, then walked into the building while voicing their opposition to Senate Bill 1. The schools were in Clark, Franklin, Garrard, Lincoln, Montgomery, Rockcastle and Woodford counties and Danville Independent School District. Montgomery County teachers will also hold rallies after school.
At Garrard County High School, a group gathered with signs. "Honk if you love a teacher" and "A pension is a promise" were among the messages.
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"In Frankfort, they're just not hearing us," said Sabrina Coffey, a teacher and president of the Garrard County Education Association.
The rallies come amid a national movement for teachers. In West Virginia, teachers in all 55 counties went on a strike last month that lasted for more than week before the legislature approved a 5 percent pay increase for public employees. Teachers in Oklahoma have said they are considering a strike over teacher pay and school funding as well.
“I hope they walk in every day and teach our kids,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect.
When asked if he was worried about the prospect of a teachers strike Wednesday, Gov. Matt Bevin said any opposition to the pension bill was “ill-informed.”
“The reality is, I’m saving the pension system,” Bevin said. “If they are upset about it, it’s either they are ill-informed or willfully blind…I think the vast majority of teachers are none of the above. They are very aware of the fact that they want the pension. Their leadership has their reason for fomenting things. God bless them. But I’m still going to save the pension whether they like it or not.”
As pension reform has gone through the legislative process, first as a proposal from the governor and then as a Senate bill, teachers and public employees have been vocal in their opposition.
The current proposal would cut billions of dollars in benefits for teachers and other public workers over the next 20 years in an effort to eliminate an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion.