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

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.