Kentucky teachers protest at the state capitol in Frankfort

Many Kentucky districts cancel classes as teachers protest pension legislation

March 30, 2018
Teachers call in sick throughout the state after the legislature hastily approves a pension bill opposed by teachers.

Schools in more than 20 Kentucky counties were closed Friday as teachers across the state, frustrated by a pension reform bill passed by the legislature called in sick.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the state's largest district, Jefferson County Schools, closed because of significant teacher absences that left it unable to "safely cover a large number of classes with substitute teachers," according to a statement. 

When the district made the decision at 4:45 a.m.,roughly 1,270 teacher absences had been reported, and several hundred more were anticipated, district spokesman Daniel Kemp says. There were 123 schools with unfilled classrooms and around 20 schools with double-digit teacher absences.

More than 20 counties have announced school closures — many citing an inability to cover teacher absences — as teachers and supporters called for all 120 counties to close their doors.

Some, like Madison County, have explicitly connected the closures to protests following the pension reform bill's passage; others have attributed it simply to employee absences. 

"This has been a difficult evening for all for all of us in education," a post on Madison County's school district's website says. "We share a passion for our students and for their futures that is unmatched and unwavering. Tonight we have to balance that passion with the need to stand in solidarity with others in our profession across this state." 

Teachers have been a consistent, loud voice against how lawmakers have proposed to fix the broken pension system. 

A banner posted on the front steps of one rally at the state capitol in Frankfort summed up their feelings: "WE'VE HAD ENOUGH." 

Thursday night, as the pension bill passed, many continued to voice their outrage, stunned and furious by lawmakers' quick unveiling and voting on the measure. They chanted objections such as "Shame on you."

The bill, which cleared the House and Senate in a matter of hours, first came into view Thursday afternoon when a committee resurrected a bill without warning that had seemed near death for three weeks. 

Although it does not include some provisions teachers found most objectionable — like a reduction in cost-of-living increases for retired teachers or a change in how long current teachers must work before being eligible for retirement benefits — it does move future teachers from the current traditional pension plan into a new "hybrid" cash balance plan. It also limits the effect of sick leave payments on retirement benefits.

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