By TOM LATEK, Kentucky Today
FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Thousands of teachers and retirees converged upon the Capitol on Monday to protest last week’s passage of pension reform legislation.
Most schools across Kentucky were already closed for spring break, but every other district that was open also shut down on Monday. An estimated 5,000 protesters were expected.
The bill narrowly passed the House on Thursday, 49-46, and Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, a retired history teacher at Frankfort High School who voted against the bill, spoke with protestors on his way into the Capitol on Monday morning.
He said he didn’t like the process of how the pension bill suddenly appeared on wastewater legislation. “This was a deal probably worked out a very long time ago and they waited until the very last minute, thinking it wouldn’t matter.
“All they have done is awaken a sleeping giant, so those who have been impacted by this bill have shown up to demonstrate their contempt for what happened last week.”
Janis Barton, a retired teacher from Middlesboro who now lives in Madison County, said that while she will be impacted by the legislation, “I’m more concerned about the future of education. I think charter schools and hurting the pension of future teachers is going to destroy public education in Kentucky.”
She added she was upset at the way the legislation was passed, “under the cover of darkness. If this is such a great bill, why wasn’t it brought out into the open, instead of the sneakiness?”
Pam Sanchez, a first-grade teacher in the Boone County Schools, said her district was not on spring break, but was one of the ones who closed today. She said her administrators have been supportive.
She explained why she drove to Frankfort. “I’m concerned about cuts in funding for our students, and the programs they need.”
Sanchez was also concerned about the way the legislation was adopted. “They were trying to pass it without informing everybody and giving an opportunity to read the entire document and make an informed decision.”
The teachers also received encouragement from Attorney General Andy Beshear, who told them to “be loud, make your voices heard. Tell them either they’re going to repeal that bill they passed, or you will not re-elect them.”
Beshear has vowed to file suit against the bill as soon as Gov. Matt Bevin signs it, saying Senate Bill 151, “violates the ‘inviolable contract’ made decades ago with our teachers and social workers. It illegally cuts their benefits, it harms teachers and, in the end, it is not legal under the law. We will have our challenge and I believe we will be successful.”
Monday is the 58th day of the 60-day legislative session. Lawmakers are scheduled to recess until April 14, according to the latest schedule from the LRC.