Thursday, February 13, 2003

Ky. teachers rally to protect funding

House plan keeps money intact

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FRANKFORT - Thousands of teachers, including hundreds from Northern Kentucky, gave the General Assembly a lesson in grass-roots politics and a message not to cut education funding Wednesday.

[photo] Barbara Martin, assistant superintendent of Ludlow Independent Schools, waves a placard during the Frankfort rally.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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A crowd estimated by rally organizers at 21,000 weathered frigid temperatures to stage a pro-education afternoon rally on the steps of the state Capitol, where House legislators are crafting a budget that - in an 11th-hour save - appears to at least maintain school spending with no major cuts.

"We're here for one reason," said Lennea Thomas, a sixth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary, who was part of a contingent of more than 20 teachers from the Dayton Independent Schools. "We're here for the kids.

"We're worried about cuts in state funding," said Thomas, hoisting a sign imploring legislators. "And it's not just about teachers' salaries. If funding is cut ... we're going to lose a lot of teachers. The kids are going to lose a lot of programs. Our test scores are going to fall. And more kids are going to be in every classroom."

"This many people came all this way from all over the state," added Karen Fuchs, a third- and fourth-grade special-education teacher in Dayton. "(Legislators) need to listen to what we have to say today, because if they don't, education in this state is going to suffer."

None bigger since KERA

State government veterans said Frankfort has not seen such a gathering of teachers, parents, school administrators and education supporters since a 1990 rally urging passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, or KERA, legislation inspired by a state Supreme Court ruling that radically changed the way education is funded and operated in Kentucky.

"The fact that there is such a huge turnout indicates to me that there is tremendous grass-roots support for strong education funding, and we need to do everything we can to protect it," said State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, who watched the rally from the Capitol building. "I've never seen a rally like this down here, period."

[photo] Overall view of the rally at the state capitol in Frankfort.
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The rally, more than a month in the planning, was organized by the Kentucky Teachers Association, a labor union representing educators, and other state and local education groups as a way to protest any potential cuts to the state's education budget.

Facing a nearly $400 million budget deficit, Kentucky state lawmakers have been looking for ways to trim spending because there is little sentiment, particularly in the Republican-controlled Senate, for raising taxes.

Some hope in House version

Yet there is the possibility for a budget that spares cutting primary and secondary education. The House version of the budget, which could be passed by Friday, does not cut education and allows for a 2.7 percent pay raise for teachers or other certified school employees. That equates to a raise of $1,080 a year on a salary of $40,000.

"It looks like we're going to have a budget that keeps education funding in place," said Rep. Paul Marcotte, R-Union. "Other places will have to be cut, including higher education. But I think most lawmakers realized we could not cut education at this point. It's too important to the future of our state."

Kentucky ranked 49th in the nation in education when KERA was passed in 1990. The state now ranks 28th after the implementation of the law.

Once the budget passes the House it must go to the Senate, which could begin taking up the spending bill early next week.

N. Ky. for `adequate' funding

Asked if the rally will help education's cause in Frankfort, Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, responded, "I sure hope so."

[photo] Taylor Branham, left, 6 , a first grader at Latonia Elementary School, was among those attending the rally.
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"It sure ought to," said Draud, a former teacher and the retired superintendent of the Ludlow Independent Schools, as he stood outside the House chamber Wednesday. "That's a heckuva crowd out there with a good message people in this building need to hear."

Fort Thomas Independent Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry Stinson was optimistic about news of the House budget, but cautioned his community against thinking the spending plan will solve all of education's funding problems.

Fort Thomas voters go the polls March 4 to decide a local schools tax increase.

"This rally just gives more emphasis to the problems we've been experiencing for years," said Stinson, as he stood with Beechwood Independent Schools Superintendent Dr. Fred Bassett and Curtis Hall, superintendent of the Southgate Independent Schools.

Families make trip together

Many Northern Kentucky parents, some with their children in tow, made the two-hour trip to Frankfort to attend the rally.

Debbie Pleasant, 31, is a parent and teacher in the Covington Schools. Bundled in warm clothes, her three children - Kassidy, 10; Deondre Jr., 4; and Tatianna, 3 - were part of a group of more than 100 from Covington.

"I love what I do, but with the budget cuts I worry as a parent and a teacher about what is going to happen with less money for the schools," said Pleasant, a special-education teacher. "And as an employee, I worry about things like health insurance premiums going up if there is less money. With three kids, it's a big concern."

Three members of Latonia Elementary's PTA - Covington residents Stephanie Glacken, Lisa Foley and Noelle Huffman - were among the first to arrive at the rally.

"I'm here because I want my kids to get the education they deserve," said Foley, the mother of three and the PTA president.

Glacken said her 6-year-old daughter, Brittany, a first-grader, learned reading and some Spanish last year in kindergarten and is advancing this year as well. She fears there will be less attention to classroom instruction with less money for education.

"Can't they cut something besides education?" Glacken said. "If they do, our kids and this whole state will take a big step back. I hope they get that message."


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