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Educators in Kentucky are fighting back against drastic cuts to their pensions and charter school expansion, says teacher Blossom Brosi

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JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. Teachers in Kentucky are calling for another protest on Friday against several proposed laws they say will severely hurt the state’s public education system. Governor Matt Bevin has warned against such protests. In Oklahoma a teachers strike has entered its second week as educators there, the lowest paid in the nation, demand increased funding for public schools and an increase their salaries.

We now go to Kentucky, where we’re joined by Blossom Brosi, who’s a teacher at Danville Independent School, along with her daughter Iris, who is a second grader. Let’s start with Iris. So you’re a second grader, and your mother has been involved in this protests. Talk about how you feel about what’s been happening in your whole state. I’m sure you’ve been watching, I’m sure even going to some of the protests or at least watching them on TV.

IRIS BROSI: The people should give them retirement money, because then, the teachers, there’s not going to be new teachers, because the teachers don’t think that’s cool. And then when there’s other teachers that aren’t teachers, and they’re going to be teachers, since there’s no retirement money then they’re not going to be teachers.

JAISAL NOOR: OK. And so, Blossom, can you talk a little more about that? The fact that, you know, we, at any moment now the governor, or at least on Tuesday, the governor will have to decide whether to sign into law this controversial pension reform bill that will totally change the way that pensions are currently funded, especially for teachers in Kentucky. And that’s been one of the major flashpoints there.

BLOSSOM BROSI: Many teachers protested at the Capitol during spring break. And then even before spring break there were some schools that had sickouts, and closed school in order to attend protests. So right now there are a couple of districts that are already decided to close for Friday, to participate in the sickout. And then other districts are, like the district I work at, we’re still deciding what to do on Friday. And the reason that we’re wanting to go to the Capitol on Friday is because the last two days of the assembly are Friday and Saturday. So that’s when our legislators are going to meet in Frankfurt. So that’s why we want to have a presence at the Capitol.

So basically what happened was the Senate Bill 151 that dealt with teacher retirement was passed, and then we protested at the Capitol the following Friday and Monday. And then Monday, as we were protesting at the Capitol, as we had a presence of about at least 10000 teachers at the Capitol, our legislators passed two pretty controversial laws pertaining to the budget. So they passed a new budget. They passed House Bill 200 and House Bill 366. We weren’t happy about it. It’s a terrible budget. You know, what was bad about it was it cut education, although not as much as we anticipated it would cut education. There were bigger cuts to higher education. And then there were just new, a new tax shift to put a tax burden on the middle class and the working people of Kentucky. So teachers kind of got two problems. You know, the pension bill, and then the budget bill that didn’t fund education and gave us middle class Kentuckians higher taxes.

So then our governor vetoed those budget bills. And he has not said whether or not he’s going to veto the pension bill. And he has until midnight tonight to do that. So we don’t know if he’s going to do that or not. And it’s kind of interesting, because the Democratic leaders of Kentucky are happy that the governor vetoed these budget bills, because they didn’t like the budget bills. But the others, like the Kentucky Education Association, are calling for a veto override, and now they do want the budget bills to pass. And why? Because we think that the governor has even worse plans in store for working Kentuckians. So it’s kind of like these terrible budget bills are the devil that we know, which is better than the devil that we don’t know, which is what we think the governor is proposing for Friday and Saturday.

So basically, you know, what’s bad about these bills is that they just tax the working class. You know, we need tax reform in Kentucky, but we didn’t need to make our tax system worse, which is basically what happened. I mean, there’s all these increases in income taxes for everyone except for the top 5 percent of wealthy Kentuckians. There is all of these increases in sales tax to things that working people consume. Like, for example, auto repairs are going to have more taxes now. Whereas, you know , working class people have their autos repair done. But legal work, accounting, horse racing, you know, things that apply to wealthy people are not being taxed. So it’s the increase in sales tax well as the increase in income tax for working class people that made this so bad.

Well the governor came up with this fiscal responsibility statement saying that those tax increases aren’t enough, and that’s why he vetoed it. He wants working class people to be taxed even more. So he isn’t happy with what the GOP leaders did. And he wants working class people taxed even more. He wants education cut even more. So here we are with this terrible bill, but we’re wanting it to stay because we’re afraid of what he would replace it with.

JAISAL NOOR: Between a rock and a hard place, because it’s, you know, it’s this thing that you don’t like, but you don’t know what’s, you know, what possibly, something possibly worse could replace it. I understand that the charter, the charter funding for these privatized charter schools did not make it into this tax bill. So that is a victory for public education.

BLOSSOM BROSI: But that’s what we’re afraid of. We’re afraid that the new budget that the governor will want the Republican leaders to replace what he vetoed with will include charter school funding. So that’s what we’re afraid of. And why are we afraid of, you know, bad things happening? Because this is what has been happening. I mean, this isn’t the way that government is supposed to work. And on top of that, the governor is making statements where he is just insulting teachers. You know, he called the teachers union the problem. He’s saying that teachers aren’t taxpayers. He’s insulting people for protesting at the Capitol, as though that is something bad, you know. And it’s the same rhetoric that we’re hearing from Betsy DeVos, you know, that we’re hearing from Matt Bevin here in Kentucky, which is, teachers, you know, shut up and do your job and teach the kids, you have no place in government.

And you know, that’s just what’s really wrong. I mean, these representatives are supposed to be representing us. We are supposed to be telling them what we want. You know, we’re, this is how it’s supposed to work. And yet we’re being insulted for doing exactly what our responsibility as citizens is.

JAISAL NOOR: And the governor has warned teachers to not, to not sickout on Friday and to protest. Are you going to be, are you going to take part in that, and other teachers you work with? Do you think that they will, they will take part in that?

BLOSSOM BROSI: Well, a couple of counties have already said that they’re doing a sickout, so the superintendents have indicated, you know, have stated that there isn’t going to be school on Friday, that they are going to do a sickout. Well, I work for a small, independent school district. And what we’re doing is we’re trying to come up with a decision as a district of what we’re going to do. So teachers, all teachers, and then teachers that belong to the union are all talking about what we should do as a district and trying to be unified as a district. So that decision hasn’t been made, but we have been meeting and we have been talking about it. We’ve talked about doing things like we have school, but some representatives from the teachers go to Frankfurt. That’s one kind of, something that we were talking about doing. We’re trying to come up with all these compromises so that we can still have school.

So the problem is that other teachers don’t believe that these compromises are right because they’re not drastic enough action, you know. So you’ve got to do something drastic to show that there is a public education crisis in Kentucky, because that’s what this is. So that’s why teachers want to go on a sickout.

JAISAL NOOR: All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Blossom Brosi, a teacher at Danville Independent School, and Iris, a second grader, both in Kentucky right now. We know there’s a lot of, you know, things moving and changing this week, and so we’ll definitely follow up, you know, as things pan out. And you know, we’ll keep getting updates from you guys. Thank you so much for speaking to us.


JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.