FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) – Thousands of teachers flocked to the Kentucky Capitol on Monday to protest proposed changes to their pension plans, forcing school districts across the state to close.
The protests come in response to a bill passed on Thursday by the state’s Republican lawmakers that cuts benefits for new teachers. Educators in Oklahoma also protested Monday to demand boosts to wages and school funding.
Changes to the Kentucky pension system were tacked onto a sewage bill at the last minute, which prevented any public feedback.
The bill has yet to be signed by Governor Matt Bevin, who tweeted on Thursday that lawmakers “voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road.”
In the same tweet, he added: “Anyone who will receive a retirement check in the years ahead owes a deep debt of gratitude to these 71 men & women who did the right thing.”
Pendleton County School District, located in northern Kentucky, was closed on Monday, and posted this message on its website: “Although closing school is the last thing anyone wants to do, one of the reasons for this decision to close school is because educators feel one of their main responsibilities is to advocate for the children of the Commonwealth. We have attempted every other means of communication, action, and advocacy.”
“The budget proposed by our Governor results in a 1.9 million dollar loss to our school district. We need to make sure the Legislature internalizes the importance of putting our kids and families first, as well as those across the Commonwealth. We encourage all of our families and community to travel with us in solidarity. We must educate our lawmakers on the need to find new streams of revenue to fully fund our vital Public Services, including Public Education.”
Republican State Senator Wil Schroder, who represents Pendleton County, responded to a request for comment by saying, “It’s the people’s capital, and everyone has the right to show up and let their voice be heard.”
Kentucky’s public teacher pension system is rated as one of the worst in the country, and is currently funded at just 56 percent.
Teachers are hopeful the protests will effect change, however, as similar walkouts and protests in West Virginia and Oklahoma have resulted in pay raises for public educators.