Kentucky teachers protest House Bill 525

The bill would restructure the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System board, which oversees Kentucky’s teacher pension system.


RED WAVE – Teachers line up outside the annex building of the capitol in Frankfurt, Kentucky to protest HB 525. Photo by Sylvia Cassidy

KY 120 United, a grassroots organization centered around education, on Wednesday night called for teachers across Kentucky to hold a “sick out” on Thursday over the introduction of Kentucky HB 525, a bill that would change the structure of the board of trustees that oversees Kentucky’s teacher pension system. JCPS announced at 10:18 p.m. that it would not be holding classes Thursday due to significant teacher absences.

During a “sick out,” teachers collectively agree to call in sick in the hopes that it will force their school district to cancel school for the next day.

KY 120 United aims to unify the 120 counties across the state to focus on pensions and fully funding public education. The organization also aims to vote people out of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) and the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS), despite geographical and political differences.

“Am I mad tonight?” Nema Brewer, co-founder of the KY120 Strong coalition and community relations specialist for Fayette County Public Schools, asked on a Facebook live with more than 37,000 members, many of whom are teachers. “I’m mad as hell!”  

House Bill 525 was introduced by Representative Ken Upchurch of District 52 in the Kentucky General Assembly. It aims to restructure the KTRS board, creating seven elected trustees, one chosen from each of the following organizations:

  • Kentucky Education Association
  • Kentucky Retired Teachers Association
  • The Kentucky School Boards Association
  • The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents
  • The Kentucky Association of Professional Educators
  • The Kentucky Society of Certified Public Accountants
  • The Kentucky Bankers Association

Currently, the board consists of seven positions elected by members of KTRS: two from outside the teaching profession, a retired teacher, and four current teachers or administrators. Under HB 525, these positions would be eliminated and replaced with trustees elected by the seven statewide groups.

“Right now, a number of teachers sit on the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System board and look after their money for their funds. Most of these teachers are being taken off the board, but they’re being replaced by people who don’t have an expertise in pensions and don’t have a vested interest in how the fund does,” Morgan McGarvey, the Kentucky senator for District 19, said in a video addressing the topic.

HB 525 will be heard in committee at noon on Thursday. “If HB 525 passes out of committee on Thursday we will stay home on Friday as well,” KY 120 United said in a private Facebook post.

“This bill looks like it has political implications,” Senator McGarvey said. “And of course, it is going after a board which has provided us with the most funded of our pension liabilities and KTRS.”

In addition to the bill’s political impact, students across the district are feeling the potential effects of HB 525.

“It’s impacting my individual education,” Melina Hunt, a sophomore at Brown High School, said. “When the government passes sudden bills like this it makes me feel like they don’t care about me.”

Even though KY120 United has encouraged all teachers to call in sick tomorrow in order to go to Frankfort for the committee session — a sick out — neither the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) nor the (KEA) have publicly come out in favor of a sick out. However, both have encouraged stakeholders to call the legislative message line (1-800-372-7181) to urge legislators to vote no on the bill.

Last spring, the state experienced a teacher sick out on March 30 over proposed pension reform, with almost 30 districts to cancel classes. At the time, the public hadn’t even seen the bill before it passed through the Senate on a 22-15 vote at 10:15 pm the previous night.

“It’s really wrong that the pensions are being impacted like this. Teachers don’t get paid that much already and for the government to suddenly think they can dictate who oversees pensions is awful,” Central High School student Sincere Grant said. “If we don’t have school or we do and have a bunch of substitutes, I guess I’m not getting as much knowledge as I could be.”