Governor, Teachers Spar Over 'Sick-Outs'

Mar 12, 2019

Educators stayed visible in Frankfort Tuesday, with Jefferson County teachers staging their fourth "sick-out" to protest legislation in the homestretch of the 2019 session. It's leading to a familiar dynamic.

"Hey hey, ho ho, Matt Bevin has got to go!"

Those chants echoing throughout the Kentucky Capitol came on the heels of a video posted to social media by Gov. Matt Bevin, who accused the Kentucky Education Association and other teacher groups of putting their interests ahead of their students. He also accused the Jefferson County Teacher's Association of "reloading sick days" into teachers' accounts so they can continue to cycle into Frankfort— an allegation JCTA President Brent McKim denied, calling it a "bizarre assertion."

"If you are a parent whose kids are in school, as I am, you should be offended by this," the Republican said in the video posted on Monday. "It should be about the students. It's not about what's in the best interest of the KEA or any of these other groups that want to attract attention and reources and power to themselves." (Watch below.)

Republican leaders echoed Bevin's comments, suggesting the repeated cancellation of classes in the state's largest school district and the disruption of standardized testing could backfire on teachers.

"I think they are teetering because we are starting to get more and more messages in from people asking us why this is being allowed, why children are not going to school, why is the ACT test being jeopardized," Senate President Robert Stivers told reporters.

The GOP leader also downplayed the idea that the bills that have teachers worried are on the move.

"I think people are assuming things that are not going to happen," the senator said.

The measures driving protests include HB 525, reorganizing the teacher pension board, and HB 205, launching tax credits for private school scholarship donors. Louisville Senator Morgan McGarvey tweeted that he believes the tax credit language will not be added to a tax bill currently in conference committee.

"I will be shocked and feel lied to if that changes," he wrote.

But memories of last year's eleventh-hour legislative maneuvers on pension reform are still fresh in teachers' minds.

"Last year, we had the whole issue go on with the sewage bill and one of the biggest issues is that we found out that our legislators will do something shady and unconstitutional," said Emilie Blanton, who teaches English in Jefferson County. "So we're just here to let them know that they're under a microscope and that they work for us."

Blanton says, while she didn't call in sick, she showed up to help stop HB 205. The measure allots up to $25 million in tax breaks for donors to private school scholarships, which supporters say are necessary to provide school choice for low-income Kentucky kids.

"If we've got $25 million dollars to just give to other schools, I'm not sure why I'm pretty much funding my own classroom," she said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, HB 525 remained on the House orders of the day without any movement.

Just three official working days remain in the session.