Education Politics

Teachers headed back to the statehouse Thursday in a continued sickout to protest several bills under consideration by Kentucky lawmakers.

Teachers wearing red shirts filled the Capitol rotunda Wednesday afternoon shouting, “Whose Schools? Our Schools.” It’s a scene that was repeated Thursday — with no clear end. None of the controversial education bills in the House and Senate are currently scheduled to be heard at a specific time or place.

Jefferson County Public Schools was the only district to close Wednesday due to a significant number of requested teacher absences. By late Wednesday evening, JCPS and its neighboring districts in Bullitt and Oldham counties had each called off Thursday classes.

A number of advocacy groups are raising an uproar on social media about education bills in the legislature, but no organization publicly called for a sickout this week. Thursday’s school cancellations represent the third day of protests in Frankfort, after the grassroots advocacy group KY 120 Strong incited teachers to close schools in a handful of districts one week ago.

Gov. Matt Bevin has criticized the sickout on Twitter saying “school children should be in school.” Bevin has also blamed the school closings on the Kentucky Educators Association. The association put out a statement Thursday to say it did not plan the sickout but was “heartened by the spontaneous action of individual educators.”

Jonese Franklin

Oldham County teacher Abby Schwager brought her daughter Stella to Thursday’s demonstration.

While Kentucky education leaders are divided in their calls to action, they are largely opposed to these bills:

House Bill 205 would create a significant tax incentive for donations that support scholarships to help send primarily low-income students to private schools. The nonpartisan Legislative Research Commission estimates it would cost Kentucky $21 million in lost revenue in its first year.

Where it stands – The bill passed the House Education committee, but whether it has enough votes to pass the House is questionable. There has been speculation from social media groups that the tax credits may resurface in HB 354, a tax bill being worked out in a conference committee, after the General Assembly adjourns.

House Bill 525 would change the nominee process and the makeup of the board of trustees that manages teacher pensions. The measure would reduce the influence of the Kentucky Educators Association, which now nominates four of 11 board seats.

Where it stands – The House State Government committee passed a revised version of HB525 last week despite the outcry of hundreds of teachers who showed up to protest this bill specifically. The revised bill would change the board from 11 to 13 members, with two members chosen from nominees by the Kentucky Educators association; six members chosen by other educator groups; and three members appointed by the governor (up from 2); plus the state treasurer and chief state school officer, as before.

This bill has been posted on the House Orders of the Day, which means it could be voted on at any time.

Senate Bill 250 applies only to Jefferson County and would expand the powers of the superintendent. The most contentious provision is that it would give the superintendent more authority in selecting principals, which are currently hired in conjunction with school councils composed of teachers and parents.

Where it stands – The bill passed committee Wednesday with a revision that would let school councils still be involved in principal selection, but with the superintendent having final say. The Senate could vote on this bill at any time.

Lawmakers will return to session next Tuesday through Thursday.

This story has been updated. 

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.