Temperatures may have plunged this week, but Kentucky educators are hoping their sustained visible presence in the Capitol will turn up the heat on lawmakers as they consider a number of bills in the final working days of the 2019 legislative session.
Wednesday, Jefferson County public schools closed their doors as teachers reportedly staged their second "sick-out" in the space of a week, prompting criticism from the state's Republican governor. Kentucky public workers are barred from striking, but have exercised their ability to call in sick in large enough numbers to cancel classes.
Confusion reigned early in the day, as red-clad public education supporters filed into the Capitol Annex checking their phones for the latest on several bills — ranging from private school scholarship tax credits to a proposed reorganization of the board governing teacher pensions. Educators argue the former could pull funds from public schools and the latter is a "solution in search of a problem" that punishes the Kentucky Education Association, which helped spearhead massive teacher protests in 2018.
Many feared the language could resurface inside other bills, as lawmakers scramble in the final five working days of the session.
"We're just here in force to look at every bill that affects education, students, our communities, and the budget of Kentucky," said Andrew Bailey, a Jefferseon County teacher who says he wasn't part of the sick-out but felt the need to make his voice heard in Frankfort. "I think that teachers need to stick together. Whenever there is a day off school, you should be here in Frankfort for not only our students and our communities but also ourselves."
House Bill 205 — the private school scholarships bill — fell short of a vote in committee Tuesday and remains in limbo for now. Gov. Bevin has said he would vote for the measure "in a heartbeat"," but the sponsor, Rep. Bam Carney, has sounded hazy on whether the votes are there in the House. The teacher pension board legislation won passage in a House committee, but has yet to materialize on the chamber floor.
Speaking on a Louisville radio show, Bevin called the sick-out "irresponsible," blaming a "handful of activists" trying to hold on to power. He went on to say the KEA may be "overplaying its hand."
Once the House and Senate gaveled in, teachers had swamped the second floor of the Capitol, chanting and waving signs as lawmakers made their way inside.
Wednesday marks day 25 of the 30-day session.