What’s up with Frankfort?

Your questions about KY education Legislation and our answers


Words by Claire Rooney

Over the past week, students in Kentucky have been pretty confused about what’s happening in Frankfort. Why didn’t we have school? What are the bills being protested? Who is protesting them? We’re here to help answer some of those questions and maybe give you some more information about the situation as well.  


Q: What’s the schedule for sickouts?

A: We don’t know for sure whether or not we’re having school until JCPS officially calls it off. Advocacy groups on Facebook like KY 120 United and JCPS Leads have all called for ‘sickouts’ in the past, so watching their Facebook might be somewhere to start. Lately, teachers have been divided on the issues, so that source is becoming more and more uncertain. Watching the legislative session and when bills are going to be heard could also be beneficial if you know what legislation to watch. This can help you predict the likelihood of a sickout, since teachers are more likely to protest if a bill is being heard.


Q: What’s the difference between a sickout and a strike?

A: In the state of Kentucky, it’s illegal for public employees to strike, since they work for public organizations that provide essential services. Because of this, teachers have been performing ‘sickouts,’ where they use their sick days, emergency days, and personal days. If enough of them call in sick, they can force JCPS to cancel school. Since school is canceled, teachers don’t have to use their sick day and they get it back. Some substitutes are choosing to cover for the teachers but some aren’t.


Q: What are the teachers protesting?

A: Teachers and other educators are protesting a number of bills that defund public education or give too much power to those who aren’t teachers. The bills in question are:

  • HB 525, which will restructure the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System Board (KTRS). The KTRS handles teacher pensions, and the bill aims to give trustee positions to more organizations besides the teachers who currently hold them through the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) as well as give Governor Matt Bevin one more appointed position to the board.
  • -HB 205, which is a scholarship tax credit bill that indirectly takes money away from the state government and gives it to private schools. Whenever a person donates to a non-profit that provides scholarships for private schools, the government gives a percentage or sometimes all of that money back to them in tax credits. Learn more about scholarship tax credits here.
  • -SB 250, which is targeted at JCPS. It gives final say in the principal selection process to Dr. Marty Pollio, the superintendent. This is different from the current system, which uses School Based Decision Making (SBDM) councils. The bill also redefines what counts as a “small purchase” that a superintendent can make, raising the amount from $5,000 to $20,000. Most legislators and teachers were angry over the principal selection part, but accepted the rest of the bill, which reduced red tape for the district.


Q: Will we have to make up the sick days/Will we have school in June?

A: Yes. Currently, the last day of school is June 4. If school keeps getting canceled, these days will continue to stack up until June 11. June 11 is the last day we could possibly have school. After that, JCPS won’t make up the missed days, according to the Jefferson County Policy and Procedure Manual. The district also might “forgive” those days, since we have an excess of school days.


Q: Do the teachers still get pensions?

A: Yes, but it’s not as good as the system that used to be in place. The reason for sickouts last year was because legislators put a pension reform bill on the back of a sewage bill that had already made it past committee hearings. Governor Bevin called a “special legislative session” to hear Senate Bill 151, the sewage bill. A special legislative session is a session called outside of the normal General Assembly to hear bills that needed to get passed. The Attorney General sued the state and the case made it to the Kentucky Supreme Court. They decided that was not constitutional and the bill wasn’t enacted, even though Gov. Bevin signed it.


Q: Are teachers doing this just to get a raise?

A: In short, no. Most teachers want to stop the privatization of education, and the bills in Frankfort that were mentioned above are on track to support that. While some teachers will agree that you need to pay public school teachers more, that wasn’t the primary reason for protesting in Frankfort. Teachers wanted to fund public schools more so they could have better resources in their classrooms.


Q: How can we find out many teachers have called in sick?

A: This is a difficult number to predict, but usually education reporters have contact with JCPS and other district spokespeople, so a reporter’s twitter is what you want to watch if you don’t have access to that information. The education reporters for Louisville are Mandy McLaren from the Courier Journal, Olivia Krauth from Insider Louisville, and Kevin Wheatley from WDRB. Of course, we don’t know for sure that school will be canceled until JCPS calls it off. The number of teachers that would have to be absent changes depending on the district, but it tends to be over 1,000.


Q: How does this affect us as students?

A: In the short term, we aren’t being affected that much, besides missing a few days of school. However, one of the things these bills do is put us on track to privatizing education and making K-12 grades more like college. Elementary, middle, and high school public schools could get so severely underfunded that the only way to get a decent education is to go into the private sector. Teachers are affected in a similar way. The pension system for teachers used to be one of the best in the country, providing incentive for teachers to go into the public sector. If the government takes away that system and defunds public education even more, we could see public schools that are lacking in very important resources. JCPS and other school districts already get zero funding for professional development and textbooks, so they’re asking themselves, “What’s next?”


Q: What’s the plan for this week? More sickouts?

A: The Assembly doesn’t officially meet until Tuesday, March 12, but committees will be meeting on Monday. This means no one will vote on HB 525, HB 205, or SB 250 until Tuesday. Teachers probably won’t call for a sickout until Tuesday. Just stay on the lookout. On the Record’s Twitter and other journalists should be watching for updates.


Q: Who is 120 strong/united?

A: KY 120 United started as a grassroots organization that was the primary teacher advocacy group, but their co-president Neema Brewer became more and more unpopular over a few days. That’s when different groups started rising in prominence on Facebook, like JCPS Leads and Dear JCPS. This disunity makes it really hard for teachers to know when to call in sick or not, since each group, including official organizations like KEA and JCTA, has a different plan for sickouts.


Q: What the plan about sending some teachers to Frankfort while still having school?

A: On Thursday night, JCPS announced a plan they developed with JCTA to send three different individuals from each school in the district to Frankfort for the remaining four days of the legislative session. They claim that this plan will allow adequate representation in Frankfort while keeping school in session.


Q: Who should I contact to get my voice heard on these bills?

A: There are many third-party advocacy groups that already have links with prepared emails to state legislators, but the Kentucky government has a page on their website for finding your specific district’s legislator. Here is the link. You can email or call them; they usually respond back within the day.


Q: What do I do if I can’t access food and other resources on our days off?

A: JCPS runs a “Bus Stop Cafe” that delivers food to those that need it on snow days or sickouts. JCPS usually updates where the bus stops on their twitter and Facebook page. Dare to Care has an interactive map where you can find places distributing food, and you can find it here. Also, the YMCA Child Enrichment Program provides breakfast and a snack as well as child care on snow days, sickouts, and school breaks. Plenty of local churches will help children and families as well.