Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Teachers in Kentucky protested at the state Capitol Friday after lawmakers passed a bill that educators fear will weaken their pensions. (Photo: @mandy_mclaren/Twitter)

#StandWithTeachers: Wave of Red State Protests Against Low Salaries and School Funding Comes to Kentucky

"How absurd is it that we live in a country where Congress and many states give huge tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations, but fail to provide adequate funding for education?"

Teachers across Kentucky on Friday became the latest educators to walk out of their classrooms, denouncing a bill that passed in the state Senate on Thursday which proposes reduced pension benefits for state employees.

The strike, which closed schools in more than 20 counties, is the latest in a recent wave of impassioned protests that have been staged by teachers in red states, where lawmakers have placed little importance on funding schools and retaining qualified teachers in recent decades—instead wooing corporations with tax cuts.     

In Kentucky, educators and supporters have adopted the hashtag #120strong to encourage teachers in all 120 counties to join the fight to keep state workers' pensions funded.

The bill that passed Thursday would limit the number of sick days teachers can put towards retirement; establish a plan in which new hires contribute a certain amount to their pensions, leading to fears of steep cuts to retirement plans; and would allow lawmakers to make other changes to pensions in the future. 

Hundreds of teachers descended on the state Capitol, chanting "Vote them out!" and unfurling a banner that read, "Kentucky Deserves Better," and promised to return Monday to continue the protest.

The protests follow a nine-day strike in West Virginia earlier this month, as every public school was closed while teachers demanded a permanent funding solution for their state-run health insurance program, after facing rising premiums and some of the lowest teaching salaries in the nation.

In Oklahoma, schools are expected to be closed on Monday as teachers stage a walkout. After weeks of protests and mobilization by educators, the state legislature finally passed a bill this week giving teachers a $6,000 raise and raising taxes on oil and gas development—but teachers have warned the bill is insufficient and the strike will go on to protest the state's poor education funding.

And in Arizona, teachers are threatening to strike unless lawmakers fund 20 percent raises for their workforce and pledge to end tax cuts until education spending is brought up to par with the national average.

According to Jeff Bryant of Campaign for America's Future, the recent activism in education is a phenomenon that Democrats should pay attention to as the midterm elections approach.

Bryant pointed to a number of recent down-ballot elections in Illinois in which progressive candidates were victorious after making strong support for public schools a key campaign issue. Vying for a state House seat, Delia Ramirez pledged to "protect our public-school system from corporate interests which attack teachers and students to destabilize public neighborhood schools and profit from privatizing education."

Such promises are likely swaying voters because education is a major concern for them, Bryant notes. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 72 percent of Americans ranked education as a top political priority—ahead of the economy and healthcare.

"Grassroots progressive Democrats are telling the party's establishment how it can lead and win on education issues," wrote Bryant. "What's not clear is if the party's pundit and policy apparatus is willing to listen."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We need your help.

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

After Far-Right Marchers Chant 'Death to Arabs,' New Israeli Government Bombs Gaza

"The problem is bigger than Netanyahu—it's apartheid."

Jake Johnson, staff writer ·


Progressives, Big Tech Critics Celebrate Confirmation of Lina Khan as FTC Chair

"Her presence on the FTC marks the beginning of the end of an era of lawlessness for powerful corporations that they've enjoyed at the expense of workers, smaller businesses, and democracy."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·


'Our Democracy Hangs in the Balance': Calls Grow for Justice Breyer to Retire

"Democrats could lose our razor-thin majority in the Senate at any moment," warns Rep. Mondaire Jones. "It would be irresponsible to leave the future of our democracy up to chance."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


Share of Fossil Fuels in Global Energy Mix 'Has Not Moved by an Inch' in a Decade

"We are waking up to the bitter reality that the climate policy promises over the past 10 years have mostly been empty words," said the executive director of REN21, which released the new report.

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·


Latest Nina Turner Ad in Ohio Highlights Working-Class Need for Medicare for All

"Wealth should never dictate whether you are able to see a doctor or live a healthy life."

Jenna McGuire, staff writer ·