Commentary

Educators are on strike in Kentucky

January 29, 2024 5:30 am

Hundreds of educators, parents and students joined a rally Nov. 1. 2023 at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon, to support striking teachers who want better pay, smaller class sizes and more planning time among other demands. (Alex Baumhardt/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

That’s quite the title. And you might look at it and say it’s untrue. Most recently teachers in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon, struck, but that’s not the commonwealth. But the fact is, teachers are on strike here in Kentucky. And please make no mistake about it, teachers are on a wage strike. 

What’s different about this strike? This strike of both early career and veteran educators has no picket line. But nearly 25% of the educators in the commonwealth left their positions after the 2022-23 school year, according to data from the Kentucky Department of Education and reported by Louisville Public Media.

While that number includes classroom teachers who leave for administration positions, it also includes those who have left the profession altogether. What is clear, nevertheless, is that teachers are striking by leaving the classroom for better pay.

Educators in the commonwealth have not had an across-the-board raise since 2008. Kentucky ranks 44th  in starting teacher pay and 40th in average salary, according to the National Education Association (NEA). Both candidates for governor in 2023 called for raises for teachers. Senate President Robert Stivers stated that an increase in pay is needed to stay competitive. 

However, with the beginning of the 2024 legislative session, Stivers suggested that any increases will be funded by districts through the current Supporting Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) formula and not earmarked for employee pay. In essence, any raises will be left to the discretion of local school boards, potentially leaving thousands of educators without a pay hike.

Recently, a former student of mine left the profession after just three and a half years because her teacher pay was not enough to cover her bills. I still remember her as a student excitedly speaking about her future as a teacher. Her passion for the profession and desire to become a teacher were enchanting, but unfortunately, in practice it could not pay the bills. Today, her story is sadly typical for thousands of other educators in Kentucky who dreamed of becoming a teacher but have been forced to give up that dream for simple economics.

Kentucky’s worsening teacher shortage requires an ‘across the pipeline’ approach, officials say

To make matters worse, this wage strike is spreading. More and more educators are leaving the profession in mid-career, after approximately 12 to 20 years of service, to maximize their earnings while they can. And make no mistake, this isn’t a strike just by teachers. This is a strike by all school staff members: bus drivers, paraeducators, custodians, food service workers, and administrators who rank 48th nationally in pay, according to the NEA.

How does this all-too-silent wage strike across the commonwealth get settled? It’s simple: by raising educator pay. It doesn’t just help them. It helps our students, communities, parent, and taxpayers. Here’s how:

  • Every dollar spent to retain a teacher is a dollar saved. Local boards do not have to spend as much on recruitment. They don’t have to spend as much onboarding new employees or on training teachers in the systems unique to each district.
  • Retaining veteran teachers helps the system grow. I had a great (unpaid) student teaching experience, but as well prepared as I thought I was, I wasn’t fully prepared for my first classroom. I am thankful every day for the veteran mentors who helped me in those first years to become the teacher I am today.
  • Retaining teachers benefits the student. Students flourish when they have consistency in their buildings. Schools are communities and when students have consistency in their community they thrive.

Raising pay for educators is what’s best for all of us who live and work in Kentucky. Lawmakers should vote accordingly to settle this strike that, in the end, continues to punish us all.

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Kelly Read
Kelly Read

Kelly Read is president of the Boone County Education Association. He has been an educator for 26 years and teaches English at Boone County High School.

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