Kentucky education is on a ‘dark road,’ UK campus protesters say


Drew Van’t Land, the organizer of the rally and UK philosophy graduate student, and Samuel Lockridge, a UK public administration graduate student, led protestors in chants during the #KY120 Solidarity Rally by the Bowman statue on the University of Kentucky campus on Thursday, April 12, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Rick Childress

Red-clad protesters rallied at the Bowman’s Den Wildcat Statue for close to an hour in the bright noon sun on Thursday. 

Future and current teachers of higher and public education gathered with supporters to protest and raise awareness about recent state legislation that is considered by some to be harmful to education.

Protesters were asked to wear red in support of the education rallies that have swept the state in recent weeks. 

To kick off the rally, Samuel Lockridge, a graduate student wearing a suit jacket and a red bandanna around his neck, taped a red t-shirt around the Wildcat statue and began shouting instructions to nearby protesters. 

Drew Van’t Land, an event organizer and graduate student, said the protest was more than just for public school teachers and the recently signed pension bill. He said the rally was against all of the proposed cuts and legislation that could potentially take funds away from higher and public education.  

“We’re trying to raise an awareness that we’re all in this together as workers generally but as education workers in particular,” Van’t Land said. “And the tendency of the state government is increasingly moving against the interests of the people, so we wanted to raise our voices.”

Last week, the Kentucky legislature passed a two-year budget that would cut $16 million from UK’s base appropriation and provisions that would allow university administrators around the state to relieve tenured faculty, provided the universities are revamping programs due to budget restraints.

But, Monday, Gov. Matt Bevin vetoed the budget. Legislators return to Frankfort on Friday to try to override the governor’s veto. 

READ: How the budget could impact UK

With legislation passing that seeks to cut education money so quickly, Van’t Land said the protest was an effort to try and slow the coming of what could be gloomier days for higher education.

“This is a dark road that we’re on,” Van’t Land said. “We’re just trying to at the very least slow down the descent.”

Bevin did sign a different controversial bill this week, as he approved the controversial Senate Bill 151. 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. 

KY 120, a Facebook group full of state workers from every county in the state which began in reaction to the controversial pension talks, encouraged supporting groups to host solidarity rallies at universities around the state, Van’t Land said. 

“We took it upon ourselves to try to raise some consciousness here,” he said. “Not just on behalf of public school teachers who we wholeheartedly support, but also as education workers ourselves.”

Protesters sang songs and chants, and read from the proposed state budget and pointed out what they found harmful in it. Other protesters stood closer to the road, trying to coax passing drivers to honk “if you support teachers,” one sign said. 

Undergraduate education majors were among the supporters who were voicing their opposition to the pension overhaul.

Sarah Gregory, an elementary education sophomore present at the rally, said she supported the decision of several Kentucky counties to cancel school Friday to protest in Frankfort. She said teachers are trying to be model citizens for their students. 

“They’re just taking their one day to go off and practice their civic duty and show their students that this is the way to stand up and not tolerate something that’s going on that you might not like,” Gregory said.

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

Gregory said last week’s teacher protests in Frankfort and in Oklahoma were inspiring as it shows “how many people who have been done wrong.”

“For those people to go and stand peacefully is amazing to see,” Gregory said before lifting her “Honk 4 Teachers” sign and returning to the rally.