Educators, supporters storm Frankfort Capitol building in protest of pensions, budget

Kentucky educators, students and supporters gathered in Frankfort, Kentucky on Monday, April 2, 2018, to protest the proposed changes in education funding and pensions. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Rick Childress

Bright yellow school buses seemed to come in a continuous column down Capital Avenue in Frankfort Monday morning. The buses were jam-packed with people; some even had to sit in the aisles.

The buses that halted across the street from the Kentucky Education Association building were loaded with more than just students—several thousand angry educators and their supporters stormed off the buses and rallied on the street. 

The long column of signs and teachers made their way down Capital Avenue and flooded up the Capitol steps and inside the Kentucky Capitol building where legislators were still seeking to finalize the state budget. 

Inside the Capitol building, a cascade of boos, cheers and chants echoed through all three floors as the crowd cheered for and booed incoming legislators. 

“We will win, we will win, we will,” chanted the crowd of thousands as Attorney General Andy Beshear addressed the no-elbow-room mass of people gathered in the rotunda and on the stairs leading up to the House and Senate chambers. 

Christine Philpott, a Georgetown College senior elementary education major, said she came out to protest because “it’s my future.”

“I want to teach in Kentucky, and it’s a big slap in the face to see that I’m not really important,” Philpott said. “I put in four years and so much money into an education just so I can educate others, and I have to be here and I have to be supportive.”

Nina Heister, a sophomore at Cooper High School in Florence, said the crowd that arrived was diverse with “kids that are 4-years-old to retired teachers.”

“We came out because we see how hard our teachers work everyday and how much they put it in,” Heister said. “And we want to make sure they’re getting the proper funding and that we’re getting the proper funding to stay in public schools.”

Heister said she believed that the protest crowd was making a difference.

“I think (the legislature) hear us and they’ll continue to hear us and there’s power in numbers and there is power behind our voices,” Heister said.

READ: Budget proposal includes language that could reduce tenure protection

Last Thursday, the Kentucky House and Senate introduced and passed Senate Bill 151—a 291-page proposal that promises to overhaul the public pension systems. 

According to reporting by the Lexington Herald-Leader, among many changes the bill would put teachers hired after Jan.1, 2019, onto a hybrid cash-balance plan as opposed to a traditional pension. 

For some teachers, like Kate Robinson, a language arts teacher of West Middle School in Shelby County, the pension changes makes many teachers unsure of their retirement futures. 

“I had a lot of people try to talk me out of going into education,” Robinson said. “I think as far as the pension goes, I always knew that the pay would be terrible, but that I would have a sense of security and retirement.”

Hollie Wallace, a UK graduate and language arts teacher at West Middle School, said that education majors who are worried should stay strong because there are many fighting for their future.

“Don’t leave the education field because you have all of these people here who are fighting for your future and for our students’ future,” Wallace said. “We still go to our job everyday and love what we do.”