Teachers stage quasi-protest over cuts to public pension in Kentucky

Public schools closed in at least 25 Kentucky counties on Friday as teachers staged a quasi-strike after legislation was passed that would overhaul the state pension system.

Kentucky teachers called in sick or absent to protest the legislation, which passed mostly along party lines on Thursday night. The closures affected schools across the state, including in its two largest school districts: Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville and Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington. More than one-third of all school employees in Lexington called out of work, the Fayette County school district said.

Kentucky’s public pension system is among the worst funded in the nation. Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has prioritized reforming it since he was elected in 2015, and Republicans have taken up the issue since gaining control of both houses of the state legislature in 2016.  

Teachers and public employees have fought the proposed changes, which have included transitioning new hires into a “hybrid” system that more closely resembles a 401(k). They argue that such changes would lead to steep cuts to their retirement systems and could violate their contracts with the state.

Teachers have spent weeks protesting the proposed pension plans, and appeared to have derailed any potential reform earlier this week as Kentucky’s 2018 legislative session drew to a close.

But on Thursday afternoon, Republicans tucked many of their proposed changes into a piece of legislation relating to public sewage. And after mere hours of debate, both state legislative chambers approved the bill in late-night votes, with the state Senate voting around 10 p.m. to send the bill to Bevin’s desk. 

Bevin praised the bill’s passage, tweeting that “49 members of the Kentucky House and 22 members of the Kentucky Senate voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road.”

But the move drew the ire of teachers and other public employees. The Kentucky Education Association called it “shameful.” Chris Brady, a member of the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education, tweeted that the lawmakers who had voted in favor of the bill had “voted not to be re-elected.” 

Teachers, meanwhile, began calling in sick or otherwise absent, forcing the closure of districts across the state. 

Kentucky teachers are the latest to stage walkouts or threaten strikes over changes to their pensions and other benefits. In February and early March, West Virginia teachers went on strike after years of tax cuts left the state without money to grant them raises and caused deep cuts to state education programs. Teachers in Oklahoma, meanwhile, have said that they plan to strike next week over similar problems, and Arizona teachers could soon follow.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

RELATED: Statewide teacher strike in West Virginia

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Statewide teacher strike in West Virginia, Kentucky
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Statewide teacher strike in West Virginia, Kentucky
Thousands of Kentucky school teachers marched Monday, April 2, 2018 from the Kentucky Education Association's headquarters to the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. to protest legislative changes to their pensions and education cuts. Public schools in all 120 Kentucky counties were closed Monday, either to join in the protest or because of spring break. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
Thousands of Kentucky school teachers marched Monday, April 2, 2018 from the Kentucky Education Association's headquarters to the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. to protest legislative changes to their pensions and education cuts. Public schools in all 120 Kentucky counties were closed Monday, either to join in the protest or because of spring break. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
Thousands of Kentucky teachers rallied at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. on Monday, April 2, 2018. (Alex Slitz/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: An Oklahoma teacher walks the picket line at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: Ella Roach holds a protest sign in support of her teacher, Kimberly Cox, during a rally at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: Conner McElveen, an Oklahoma City teacher, holds a protest sign about the lacking of taxation on the oil industry, at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Teachers and demonstrators gather during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs and chant during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Striking teachers stand on a small picket line outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators hold a sign reading '#55United' during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Striking school workers hold signs and chant inside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but hey didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Support and SOLIDARITY for the underpaid teachers of West Virginia who are fighting for higher wages at a time when… https://t.co/g0kzb2psXI
West Virginia's public schools are closed for a third day today after nearly 20,000 public school teachers walked o… https://t.co/vrIPUX2jIW
All 680 public schools in West Virginia are closed. Here's why: https://t.co/k8PImg4xDr https://t.co/9oxzlV92Bk
BREAKING: West Virginia teachers still aren’t going back to work. Union leaders just announced that the strike will… https://t.co/3npM2CL0X5
Teachers in West Virginia are still feeding their students during an expected two-day strike https://t.co/H58LZ1eh7N https://t.co/FuRRmTOuAR
I’m always shocked how little teachers are paid. Don’t our representatives know that teachers have one of the harde… https://t.co/h9cqyXk9En
West Virginia teachers are making sure their students get fed while they're on strike https://t.co/wtywBsmquu
Organizers say teachers in West Virginia are so poorly paid that some must take second jobs to make ends meet https://t.co/Wryo0CEsSl
A teacher's strike is keeping public schools closed for a third day in West Virginia. https://t.co/uVDGQQnepY
As of Sunday, all 55 counties in West Virginia had preemptively called off school for today. https://t.co/zBQGviPTd1
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: A teacher holds a protest sign at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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