FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - A cold, blustery day failed to keep well more than a thousand teachers and other public school employees from a rally on the front steps of the state Capitol on Wednesday.
Most of the attendees were from eastern and northeastern Kentucky, where several school districts closed so teachers could rally to preserve their pensions and funding for education.
Among those on hand was Rebecca Howell, principal of Oakview Elementary in the Ashland Independent School District, who said their superintendent (Sean Howard) was very supportive of their trip. “He closed our schools today, he provided transportation to bring our people down here, so we had a really good turnout,” she said.
Howell said despite the weather, she came for her children.
“I truly believe, with everything in my being, that Senate Bill 1 is bad for kids. It decreases funding in our schools. It’s not just a pension issue, per se, with teachers. When you start cutting into resource centers, afterschool programs and transportation, it’s a bad bill for children.”
She said Frankfort lawmakers have not seen the last of teacher protests. “We’re going to continue to come out and support public education, it’s what we’ve dedicated our lives to, it’s what our passion is.”
Howell also took issues with Gov. Matt Bevin for his comments about teachers.
“The first time it was we lacked the sophistication to understand his plan,” she said. “Then, ‘you’re ignorant’ and ‘you’re throwing temper tantrums.’ You’re talking to the most educated populace in the commonwealth. You’re looking at bachelors, masters, rank one, doctorate degrees, and you’re calling this group of people ignorant? I think that really needs to be in check inside that building.”
Debbie Criss, a librarian at the Boyd County schools for the last 11 years, also made the 2½-hour trip to Frankfort. “I have two children who are two years old and a year old,“ she said. “This is for their future. It’s not just for me and my pension, this is funding for them and their future.”
The point they want to get across to the legislators, Criss said, is that “we’re not going away.
“We would like to see them listen to us and get funding for our public schools. Funding has been cut every year since I got into education. It’s time to stop that and find revenue.”
Members of the General Assembly spoke to the crowd, including House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.
In what sounded much like a campaign speech, Adkins said he appreciated the teachers for making the trip. “Thank you for what you have done to energize Kentucky all the way from Ashland to Paducah, with a voice for public education,” he said.
“I have never seen the Commonwealth of Kentucky as energized as it is today. It has been for the last several months and will continue in the coming months. I stood with you yesterday, I stand with you today, and I’ll stand with you in the future.”
Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, a retired teacher and coach, also spoke to the crowd. “I support your efforts 100 percent,” he said.
The Senate’s pension bill returned to committee and it may not emerge again this session.
The Wednesday rally of eastern Kentucky educators will be followed by similar events with teachers and support workers from other parts of the state. Their goal is to keep the state budget, particularly education funding and public pensions, squarely in the public eye.