By Jennifer Hill
Last year, we started our fight for public education in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Teachers, along with other public school workers, stormed the Capitol. We donned red to show our “pensions were a promise.”
In March, we went back — to speak out again, not only for state employee pensions, but for Kentucky kids’ right to a free and fully funded public education. On Wednesday, March 6, Jefferson County Public School (the largest county of Kentucky’s 120 counties) workers decided to fill the Capitol once more. Our protest spilled over into Thursday, and we were joined by workers from several more counties. That day, I walked onto the state capitol steps, wearing a red shirt that represents me — I’m an English teacher in Louisville — and my students.
There was a sea of red and signs everywhere about saving Kentucky’s public education. The farther we ascended, the louder the chanting from inside became. We were anxious, waiting to join the others. We stood in the cold for hours, more of us arriving, everyone wanting to be seen, to be heard, and to pressure specific lawmakers. Parents showed their support by delivering hot cocoa and coffee. Students on stilts held signs high.
Our students and parents object as much as we do to the proposed changes, which our legislature calls “school choice.” We know what that means: less funding for our students, but more for the private sector. Private schools often turn away low-performing students and students with disabilities, among many others.
Our students’ voices go unheard so much of the time. They should have a say in what happens to them and their education. They should ask “what will happen to us?” if lawmakers pass these bills. As teachers and support staff, we are with them daily to ensure they’re safe and receiving the best education they can get. We, the teachers and school staff of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, stood in the cold to give them a voice they wouldn’t otherwise have in this very dire situation.
Once inside, we heard the sounds reverberated off the walls: chants like “Fund our schools!” and the lyrics of Twisted Sister’s, “We’re not gonna take it,” now the national teacher fight anthem. “We’re not gonna take it,” we sang. “No, we’re not gonna take it, anymore.”
Some legislators were willing to speak with some of us. Some were willing to speak on the steps inside the capitol building. Some elected representatives told us that our presence was making many uncomfortable. They went on to inform us that many of the elected representatives assumed we would not be there due to the fact that it was not officially organized by our union, but instead a group of Jefferson County Public School workers, “JCPS Leads.” Like in other states, ours was a Facebook group that formed quickly and took off – with more than five thousand members, including JPS workers, parents, and students. Once my county started to organize, I wanted to be a part of the fight. A group of colleagues and I met on March 7 and drove a caravan up to Frankfort, Kentucky’s capitol. We spent time together in thoughtful conversation, sharing our genuine worries about our lawmakers’ efforts to dismantle Kentucky’s public school system. Over the past year, I have watched as teachers and workers in many states have gone on strike to fight for properly funded schools and to fight for a more livable wage. We stand in solidarity with them.
I want to invite students and parents to join us because this fight isn’t about us anymore. It’s about our students. I teach in a “title one” school, the designation for low-performing schools with a student body of low-income families, many of color and/or immigrant. I know a large percentage of my students will be the ones who suffer most under privatization. For these reasons, I want us to storm the capitol. I want to tell the world, We are Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky and we stand for students. We stand for public education.
—Jennifer Hill is an English teacher and JCTA member in Louisville, Kentucky.