More than 30 districts in Kentucky canceled classes on Friday, as teachers stormed the state capitol to urge lawmakers to override the governor’s budget veto and invest more money into public education.
And hours later, lawmakers did vote to override Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of a roughly $480 million tax hike, which will increase education funding, and his veto of the state’s budget, which provides around $4,000 per student—about $300 more than current levels.
Bevin tweeted that he will call a special session to “pass a transparent and properly balanced budget.” That budget, he tweeted, will be paid for “in ways that are not arbitrary & complicated.”
“By failing to significantly reduce the pension debt, while also increasing our overall spending, the legislature is proposing to continue Kentucky’s dangerous fiscal habits by making promises to our citizens that we already know we cannot keep,” Bevin wrote in an op-ed explaining his decision.
Kentucky has the worst-funded pension system in the United States—its pensions are about 53 percent funded, with an unfunded liability of nearly $33 billion, Reuters reported.
Bevin has had harsh words for the Kentucky Education Association, which supported the budget veto override. On a local radio show, Bevin called the state teachers’ union a “fraud” and said it was “unleashing mayhem” by rallying teachers.
“They are not representing what’s best for the teachers, and they’re sure not representing what’s best for our students,” he said.
This is the third time teachers have gathered at the capitol in the past month to protest the governor and the legislature. On Friday, March 30, thousands of teachers called in sick to protest the passage of the pension reform bill. The following Monday, schools in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties were closed as teachers rallied at the capitol (most districts were shut down for spring break, but the protest forced about 20 districts to close).
This time, schools in at least 36 counties were closed for the protest, including Louisville and Lexington, which are the largest districts in the state. Other districts stayed open and sent delegations to the capitol.
One district that closed is Fayette County schools, a 42,000-student district that includes the city of Lexington. Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk closed schools to let employees rally at the capitol, saying the legislaure should fully fund education. (Caulk was recognized as one of Education Week’s 2018 Leaders to Learn From.)
“For me, this is about social justice, this is about equity, this is about all children,” Caulk said in an interview. “Not just my children in Fayette County, but children of the commonwealth, who look to public education as a pathway to a better life. In order to do that, we need the resources to be able to help our students. ... With the governor’s proposed budget, it would significantly continue to underfund education and leave many children behind, including our most vulnerable students—our students in poverty, our students who are learning English as a second language, our students with disabilities.”
Bevin’s proposed budget would keep the main funding formula for K-12 the same, but it cut funding to other programs like virtual learning and school improvement funds. It also cut about $138 million in state funds for student transportation in school districts, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The Kentucky teachers’ protest is the latest in a wave of teacher activism sweeping the country. Last night, the Oklahoma Education Association called the statewide teacher walkout off after nine school days. The union called the effort a “historic victory” for public education, despite not achieving all of its goals. Hundreds of teachers still gathered at the capitol today, but the crowd was the smallest it has been, according to The Oklahoman.
Story updated 5:10 pm with news of the veto override
Image: Karen Schwartz, a teacher at Phoenix School of Discovery in Louisville, stands outside the House chambers on April 13 as teachers from across Kentucky gathered outside the state capitol in Frankfort to rally for increased funding for education. —Bryan Woolston/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.