Kentucky educators and supporters try to reclaim state

The nation’s eyes were on Kentucky in the spring when Bluegrass State teachers walked off the job because of low pay and threats to their pensions. We should all be watching again on Nov. 6, when teachers and their supporters try to take the state back from ALEC-aligned Republicans.

Over 50 active and retired teachers are seeking seats in the Kentucky House and Senate, part of what veteran Courier-Journal political reporter Tom Loftus calls “an unprecedented wave of educators running for the General Assembly this fall.”

It’s happening across the country. HuffPost, citing National Education Association figures, reports over 500 educators are running for state legislative seats. Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider highlight the phenomenon in episode 52 of their “Have You Heard” podcast.

Empty House Chamber, Kentucky Statehouse

House Chamber, Kentucky Statehouse

But nowhere are teachers running with more enthusiasm, or is more at stake, than in Kentucky, as members of Save Our Schools Kentucky made clear last weekend at the Network for Public Education conference in Indianapolis. Four of the activists led a panel titled “How Grassroots Can Stop the Kochs in Your State,” arguing that citizen activism can check big-spending outsiders like the Koch brothers.

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Bennett to media: Teachers are good, unions are bad

Thursday was a super-big media day for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. He was quoted in front-page stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

In both, his message was the same: Teachers are the good guys; teachers’ unions, while they may be made up of teachers, with their leadership elected by teachers, are blocking what’s best for students.

“There is a tremendous difference in desire for reform between teachers and the teachers unions,” Bennett told the Post’s Nick Anderson. “Teachers want what’s best for children. The teachers union is an institution built to protect the interests of itself and adults.”

Anderson reported from Indianapolis for a story focusing on state legislation to institute teacher merit pay, limit collective bargaining and fund private-school vouchers. He interviewed the presidents of both state teachers’ unions, Indianapolis teachers and Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The New York Times story focused on nationwide teacher reactions to proposed changes in education laws. Bennett told the Times’ Trip Gabriel that union leaders had distorted the Indiana legislation to create fear. “This is in no way, shape or form an attack on teachers; it is a comprehensive effort to reform a system,” he said.

Coincidentally, Bennett was scheduled to be in Bloomington on Thursday to discuss his legislative agenda with local educators, but he called off the appearance. Lauren Auld, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said Bennett canceled because of changes in the state legislative calendar prompted by House Democrats’ walkout over education and anti-labor bills. She said the department will attempt to reschedule the meeting.