Kentucky Gov. Bevin blasts teacher sickouts: ‘No reason to be walking out on students’

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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin blasted teachers over "sickouts" in his state. (Associated Press, File)

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin posted a Facebook video Monday evening in which he criticized state educators who have staged "sickouts" to protest a pair of education bills before the state legislature.

"There’s no reason to be walking out on students, leaving students in the lurch, hurting them and their parents and the many businesses in Kentucky that are affected by this," Bevin said in the nearly four-minute video, which was captioned "Sick of 'Sickouts?'" " … Don’t let all the noise of the power-hungry, money-hungry people, at the [Kentucky Education Association] and others, distract you from the fact that putting the children first is the greatest responsibility we have."

Teacher absences have forced schools across the state to close as teachers and school-system employees have congregated at the state capital in Frankfort to make their voices heard at legislative hearings. For example, schools in Jefferson, Meade, Oldham and Bullitt counties were all closed this past Thursday. A week earlier, at least six school districts were closed, including the two largest in the state.

The most hotly disputed bill would change how people are nominated to the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System's board of trustees, which controls the pensions for about 126,500 people. Currently, Right now, the Kentucky Education Association — which has about 43,000 members — controls nominations for seven of the pension board's 11 members. The bill would change that, letting groups like the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association, the Kentucky School Boards Association, and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents nominate members.

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"One organization in particular controls the process of nominating seven of those positions, effectively locking out other educators from the very decisions that impact their financial future," said Republican Rep. Ken Upchurch, the bill's sponsor.

In a room packed with teachers last month, Kentucky State Representative Ken Upchurch spoke on a bill that would change how individuals are nominated to the Kentucky teachers retirement systems board of trustees. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File)

In a room packed with teachers last month, Kentucky State Representative Ken Upchurch spoke on a bill that would change how individuals are nominated to the Kentucky teachers retirement systems board of trustees. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston, File)

Bevin, who is up for re-election this year, has criticized teachers in the past over their opposition to his efforts to reform the state's struggling pension systems, which are among the worst-funded in the nation. State officials are at least $39 billion short of the money required to pay benefits over the next 30 years. The teachers' retirement system alone is at least $14.3 billion short of what it will need to pay benefits.

In his video Monday, Bevin defended the actions of his administration when it came to educator pensions.

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"I’m the only administration, ours is, that is the first to ever fund the pension system, in its entirety," he said. "We’ve put more money into the pension in the last three years, in the last two budgets, than the previous governor [Democrat Steve Beshear] did in eight years. We’re the only ones to actually be bringing attention to the obligation we have to those who are responsible, to our students."

Bevin also accused the teacher's union in Jefferson County, the most populous in the state, of "reloading sick days into the accounts of teachers so they can call in sick when they’re not sick."

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"This is the kind of stuff that the taxpayers of Kentucky, which is those of you watching this, you should be offended by this," he said. "You really should be. And if you’re parents whose kids are in school, as I am, you should be offended by this. We have a responsibility to take care of our young people, we just do. It’s as simple as that."

The Kentucky protests are the latest example of teachers leaving the classroom to protest at state capitols, a movement that began last year in West Virginia before spreading to Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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