Teachers rally in Frankfort

Published 2:30 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Thousands of people including teachers, school administrators, future education professionals and other supporters attended a rally in Frankfort on Monday to express their concerns about the future of public education in Kentucky.

According to the Associated Press, teachers and other school employees chanted “Stop the war on public education” during the rally. Schools across Kentucky were closed, due either to spring break or to allow teachers and other school employees to attend the rally. Amid a chorus of chants from teachers rallying in the Capitol, Kentucky lawmakers approved a new state budget that includes higher spending for public education. Budget negotiators unveiled a spending plan Monday that includes increased spending for the main funding formula for K-12 schools and restored money for school buses that the governor had proposed eliminating. The additional education spending would be paid for by a 6 percent sales tax on a host of services that had previously been tax-free. The proposal now heads to the governor’s desk.

Wallins Elementary School Principal Stan Nicely participated in the rally.

Email newsletter signup

“We arrived at Franklin County High School, which was one of the places people were parking and then taking a shuttle over to the Capitol,” Nicely said. “The line wound throughout the school, it was about an hour and a half wait from the back of the line to get on one of the buses.”

According to Nicely, once his group arrived at the Capitol, they went inside and found the building packed with people.

“It was a large, energetic crowd gathered over the Capitol grounds,” Nicely said.

Wallins Elementary teacher Laura Curry was also in Frankfort to voice concerns on Monday.

“There were more teachers than I’d ever seen gathered in a single place,” Curry said. “The streets were filled. I saw a lot of support for public education.”

Nicely explained why he felt a rally was necessary.

“We’ve been in this battle with the pension crisis, and we understand there’s a shortfall, but as educators we feel like that shortfall comes through no fault of our own,” Nicely said. “The pension bill was kind of snuck through. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it wasn’t great either.”

Nicely said the pension issue invigorated educators.

The Associated Press stated Republican lawmakers in Kentucky passed a pension overhaul Thursday that preserves benefits for most workers but cuts them for new teachers. The move was done in response to chronic underfunding of the state’s teacher retirement system and in defiance of a powerful teacher’s union that vowed political retribution. Opponents objected that the pension changes were inserted into an unrelated bill without a chance for public input, and worry that the changes will discourage young people from joining the profession.

“Monday was the budget debate,” Nicely explained. “We were genuinely concerned there were going to be some major cuts to education. We were there…to encourage lawmakers to fully fund our pensions and fund education. We feel like there’s been an attack on public education, so we were very concerned what would come out of that budget bill.”

Nicely expressed his thoughts on the budget, seeming to be cautiously optimistic about the bill.

“What I have seen, as far as the education side of it, looks better than I expected,” Nicely said. “But, I’ve seen very short summaries of a very large bill.”

Nicely said the rally may have had an impact on the legislators.

“I think them knowing we were coming and knowing the teachers were energized and united forced them into creating a budget that was not as harmful to education as what had been publicized.”

According to Curry, education has taken some hits lately.

“I felt in the last few weeks we’ve taken some really hard hits in the education field in Kentucky,” Curry said. “I think our governor has made some inappropriate comments toward us that were sort of derogatory…and then Thursday was the last straw.”

Curry explained given the recent climate in Kentucky concerning public education, it was time to take a stand.

“Thursday night, it hit me these are our representatives,” Curry said. “They are supposed to be representing us…it felt like our voices weren’t being heard. The changes for new teachers will mean some people will not come into the (teaching) field. It will mean larger classes. It will mean less qualified teachers. With the rumors of things that may or may not have been in the budget, it felt like it was time to all stand together and make ourselves seen.”

Curry said if necessary, she would return to Frankfort for another rally.

“I’m very strongly hoping we got the point across,” Curry said. “If it’s needed for us to do it again, I think there are lots of people that would be willing to do it.”

There were also future education professionals at the rally, including Savannah Sergent, a former Harlan County High School student currently attending Eastern Kentucky University. Sergent is a junior at EKU majoring in communication disorders.

“I was there (at the rally) at 7:30 a.m. and I stayed until about noon,” Sergent said.

According to Sergent, the issue is important to her because her major is within the field of education.

Sergent said her ultimate goal is to return to Harlan to work in one of the school systems.

“I feel like the rally was just as important for future teachers,” Sergent said. “They (the participants at the rally) weren’t just fighting for themselves; they were fighting for their students and those of us who will be entering into the profession later on.”

Cumberland Elementary teacher Melissa Quillen, who also attended the rally, confirmed the teachers were not just rallying on their own behalf.

“We’re not only doing everything we’re doing for teachers…we’re doing it for public education and our students,” Quillen said. “I feel like they’re trying to go toward charter schools, and charter schools are not for all students. Charter schools are going to be for a select few that get put in the charter schools. I love all my students, and I worry about them and their future. I’m also there for anybody that has thought about going into the education field.”