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?"

Julia Conley

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.

TODAY is the last day of our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Biden Urged to Embrace Windfall Tax as Exxon Says Profits Doubled in Second Quarter

"It's time for the president to demand that Congress pass a windfall profits tax on Big Oil and use the revenue to provide rebates to consumers NOW!" wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·


Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·


'What's There to Even Discuss?' Omar Says Free, Universal School Meals Should Be Permanent

"We have an opportunity to prove that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can still deliver big things. And we can feed tens of millions of hungry kids while we do it."

Jake Johnson ·


'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·


As US Rolls Back Reproductive Rights, Sierra Leone Moves to Decriminalize Abortion

"I'm hopeful today's announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo