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Controversial Education Bills Behind Teacher ‘Sickout’ Now Appear Dead

Liz Schlemmer

Kentucky lawmakers say the last two education bills teachers have gathered in Frankfort to protest are very unlikely to move forward in the final days of the legislative session.

Jefferson County Public Schools closed Wednesday for the fifth day in the past several weeks, as hundreds of teachers continued to call in sick to head to the Capitol and demonstrate.

State Representative John ‘Bam’ Carney (R-Taylor) said he believes teachers have every right to advocate for themselves, but he wishes they had been in class Wednesday, instead of at the legislature.

“I think if they knew where we were at, they’d probably be in school today,” Carney said.

One bill teachers opposed passed both chambers Tuesday. The other two bills teachers protested against at the Capitol appear all but dead:

House Bill 525: Restructure of the Teacher Pension Board

Opposition to House Bill 525 inspired the educator advocacy group KY 120 to call the first “sickout” nearly two weeks ago. The bill has been eligible to be called on the House floor for more than a week, but Carney — who decides which bills to call — said the measure to reorganize the teacher pension board needs more work.

“I would say it’s resting comfortably,” Carney said. “It’s very unlikely that it would be heard this session — very unlikely — but I certainly wouldn’t pronounce it totally dead at this time.”

Even if the House does call and pass the bill Thursday, it would still need to pass through a Senate committee and the full Senate within the final two working days of the session to become law.

House Bill 205: Scholarship Tax Credits

House Bill 205 would create a nearly dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to support private school scholarships. The Legislative Research Commission estimated the bill could cost the state more than $20 million in lost revenue in the first year.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep.Carney, told reporters Wednesday the tax credits did not have enough support to move forward.

“It needs 60 votes, and that’s problematic this session … so scholarship tax credits are pretty much over for this session,” Carney said.

Carney explained it would be especially difficult to pass tax credits this year because more votes are required to pass tax measures in a non-budget year. He said “it’s going to be an issue for next session.”

“We would always be in favor of a bill like this,” said Heather Huddleston, of the Louisville nonprofit School Choice Scholarships.

Supporters of the tax credits say they would help low-income students — especially those with learning disabilities — by offering them better access to private schools so they can choose an education that best suits their needs.

Related Story: Proposed State Tax Credits Could Help Send More Louisville Students To Private Schools

The measure also did not surface in a tax bill, as some opponents speculated it might. Louisville State Senator Morgan McGarvey sent the following tweet from the committee room where the tax bill, House Bill 354, was discussed Wednesday.

JCPS teacher Lauren Dowell said she was excited to see McGarvey’s tweet early Wednesday morning, as she arrived at the statehouse to serve as an official delegate for the district.

“I’m like, ‘Woohoo, I can go home,’” Dowell said, but then, she said she thought twice, “Well, you know, it also looked like the pension thing was dead last year, until somehow it ended up in a sewer bill.”

That fear is why it is possible that some teachers may continue to call in sick to make their presence felt during the final days of the legislative session.

© 2019 89.3 WFPL News Louisville.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.