About 20 counties in Kentucky suspended classes Friday as teachers and other personnel were “calling in sick” in protest for a new pension bill. The bill, which limits the number of sick days employees can put toward their retirement and leaves the annual income adjustment at 1.5 percent, was passed Thursday by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The bill was “resurrected” after three weeks, tacked into a wastewater services bill, and passed in a matter of hours by both houses while teachers were packing in protests outside the Congress.
“If you are an education employee or a supporter of public education and can possibly get to Frankfort IMMEDIATELY, please come NOW!!!” said a Thursday post by the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA), which has taken an active stance on the matter.
In Jefferson County, about 1,270 teachers had filed absences for Friday by 5 a.m., which led to the decision of suspending the school day.
Several other counties decided to suspend classes citing the bill as the reason for the teachers' unrest.
"This has been a difficult evening for all for all of us in education. We share a passion for our students and for their futures that is unmatched and unwavering," says a statement on Madison County's school district's website. "Tonight we have to balance that passion with the need to stand in solidarity with others in our profession across this state."
Dr. Kevin Hub, Superintendent of the Scott County School District, posted a Facebook message saying that dozens of teachers had requested substitutes for Friday since the passage of the SB 151 bill and that they could only cover 54 of the 150 absentees.
“That leaves too many classes not covered, which causes a situation that is unsafe and unproductive for students and staff,” said Hub.
Protesting teachers and other education professionals hope to gain the support of their colleagues and are using the #120Strong hashtag to promote their cause among the 120 counties in Kentucky.
A Friday strike was spontaneously organized after the bill was passed, and classes for Monday were already canceled as the JCTA called for a “Budget Rally” protest in front of Kentucky's Capitol Building at 9 a.m.
Protestors should wear red in support of the teacher's strikes that have taken place in states with a Republican majority.
Meanwhile, the exemplary actions of the teacher's organization in West Virginia and other parts of the United States led teachers in Arizona to demand a 20 percent rise.
“West Virginia woke us up,” said Joe Thomas, Arizona Education Association's President, at a protest in Phoenix.
Teachers in Arizona have been organizing “walk-ins,” saying that they would only consider strikes if Governor Doug Ducey rejects their demands.
Supporters of the teachers' movement, parents, school board members, and administrators, also took to social media with the hashtags, #RedForEd and #AZWhatIsThePlan, to show their solidarity.
“These are not soft demands,” says protest organizer Dylan Wegela said in an Arizona Educators United video. “We are not taking this lightly that this may be our one chance. This is the one time in the last 20 years that teachers have really had some momentum going with everyone together to try to get a solution to the problems that we have.”
Arizona and Oklahoma have some of the lowest teacher's salaries in the U.S., sitting way below the national average.
In 2016, the yearly income median in Arizona was of USD$42,730 and USD$48,020 for elementary and high school teachers respectively, more than USD$10,000 below the national USD$55,800 and USD$58,030 average.
In Oklahoma, the Congress has already approved tax hikes on cigarettes, fuel and oil and gas production to cover some of the teachers' demands, including a USD$6,100 rise in the annual income.