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Kentucky teachers refuse to go to school, forcing closures across the state

Schools in nearly 25 counties across the state were closed.

Ann Moore, a teacher at Cherry Creek, developed a curriculum based on the book, Cowboy Ethics, written by an ex-Wall Street guy who wants to see a return of values to the country. (CREDIT: Getty Images/Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post)
Ann Moore, a teacher at Cherry Creek, developed a curriculum based on the book, Cowboy Ethics, written by an ex-Wall Street guy who wants to see a return of values to the country. (CREDIT: Getty Images/Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post)

Many Kentucky schools had to close on Friday when teachers decided not to go to school after the passage of a controversial pension overhaul. Schools in nearly 25 counties cancelled classes on Friday, according to the Courier-Journal.

Fayette County District Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall told WKYT that more than a third of school employees — 1,200 school employees — said they would not be working on Friday.

Although the final version of the bill overhauling pensions did not contain some of the provisions teachers were most incensed over, like a reduction in cost-of-living increases for retired teachers, new teachers would still have to use a “hybrid” cash balance plan, which is less generous than a traditional pension.

Under this plan, teachers would have all the money contributed to their retirement account and 85 percent of investment gains, but the state would have the remaining 15 percent. New hires would also have to work longer before they are eligible for retirement benefits and the bill ended the inviolable contract for future teachers, so Kentucky lawmakers can adjust their benefits whenever they want, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. A teachers would no longer be able to count unused sick days when considering pension benefits.

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Carlotta Abbot, a retired teacher, told the Associated Press, “I have a 19-year-old granddaughter who wants to become an educator, and I cannot in good faith encourage her to become a teacher now.”

Kentucky has the worst funded pension system in the country. Multiple governors and legislatures have chosen to underfund the the pension system and lawmakers have not taken steps to increase revenue. Some Democratic lawmakers, such as Rep. Tom Burch, have suggested that Republicans vote to legalize casino gambling and marijuana to increase revenues to help pay down pension debt.

Kentucky teachers organized a rally at the Capitol earlier this month to demand that lawmakers protect their pensions, attracting more than 1,000 teachers from across the state.

Although the Jefferson County teachers union has encouraged teachers to push for more education funding in the state budget on Monday, the union didn’t tell teachers not to go to school on Friday, according to the the Courier-Journal. Brent McKim, the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said the union will pursue legal challenges to the pension overhaul. The union will challenge the provision on unused sick days and argue that the legislature broke state law because it passed legislation without an actuarial analysis.

The Kentucky Education Association will hold a news conference at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, according to WKYT, but it’s unclear if teachers will be striking long-term.