Kentucky teachers’ strike closes schools across the state

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BY JOHN BOWDEN – 

Schools in eight Kentucky school districts were closed Friday as teachers across the state protested Republican changes to their pension system, CBS News reports.

In Lexington and Louisville — the state’s two largest school districts — hundreds of teachers took sick days or refused to show up for work after state lawmakers passed a bill changing the structure of pension benefits for future teachers.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has indicated that he will sign the bill, and said Thursday that teachers owe lawmakers a “debt of gratitude” for passing the bill.

“Anyone who will receive a retirement check in the years ahead owes a deep debt of gratitude to these 71 men & women who did the right thing,” Bevin tweeted Thursday night.

A press release from one county Friday morning read that schools were closed “due to significant teacher absences and the inability to safely cover a large number of classes with substitute teachers in many of our schools.”

Under the plan passed Thursday, new teachers are not protected by an “inviolable contract” that prevents future changes to their benefits, a move educators in the state worry will make teaching in Kentucky less attractive for new teachers.

“I have a 19-year-old granddaughter who wants to become an educator, and I cannot in good faith encourage her to become a teacher now,” retired educator Carlotta Abbot told CBS.

Republicans in the state say that future pension benefits are still in question, as CBS reports Kentucky is $41 billion short of the money it needs to pay retirement benefits over the next three decades.

“There was some hope that some of the things we could do in pension reform could make a larger impact on that future liability, but at the end of the day there just wasn’t the will to do that,” acting House Speaker David Osborne (R) said.

Kentucky’s teachers’ strike follows similar efforts in West Virginia, where teachers successfully won statewide raises and benefits reform after the longest teachers’ strike in the state’s history earlier this month.

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