Armed Officers in Schools

Tia Kurtsinger-Edison

I am extremely concerned over this Bill that seems to be targeted to the policing of black and Brown students.  The current security officer policy leaves it up to the district to determine whether they would like armed officers or not in their schools.  Currently, in JCPS there has been a push to remove police from our schools. We supported more restorative practices, trauma informed care, and mental health professionals.  

As a teacher of color, I understand the data has displayed that black and brown students receive more punitive consequences than white students, and we still have not addressed this issue.  I notice year after year our students are coming to us with this invisible backpack that is heavy, and I personally am not trained to effectively help my students. As a result the disproportionate consequence will continue.  

As a Black parent, I have to question the motive of lawmakers and leadership in education when it comes to the urban district student population.  Our kids do not and have not felt safe around armed police officers. My kids witness on the news and social media the mistreatment of a young black man recent graduate from Central high school and how he was treated when pulled over.  Just last weekend, we saw a man getting beat by LMPD on camera downtown. The district and state does not take the trauma of gun violence seriously. They want to tell us how to feel, when in reality, they should be listening to parents and teachers of color.  Trauma informed practices teaches us that guns can trigger the student suffering, yet we are now forcing them to see this every day. The JCBE policy board just met Tuesday and the discussion was two magazines versus three magazines. Sitting in the audience and listening to it was triggering listening to a table of jcps leadership rationale the use of three magazines by saying what if it jams and then the second one jams.  

Fact is mass school shooting does not  occur in urban school districts; over policing of black and brown students does.  

I support districts having the choice to decide if they want their police officers armed or not.  What is the answer when you have a whole school trained in trauma informed care because the students in the school live in a district that has high frequencies of gun violence, and your training says guns are a trigger are we intentionally triggering those students.  Can the district even identify which students are traumatized by gun violence, and if they can’t then this is all just lip service because they really do not care which students to help. Moreover, this is child neglect by the state and local school district and I will advocate parents to figure out what we need to do to charge the state and district with child neglect.

Again, history tells us that modern day policing grew out of the slave patrols and for decades, to this day, there is often an overlap between police and racist terror groups like the Klan. Only today, many of those racists don’t wear white sheets or blue uniforms, they wear camouflage gear and carry semi-automatic rifles, to which we must ask, “to what end?”. Our survival depends on the answer.

This is institutionalized racism at its best out black and brown children will be the ones to suffer at the hands of officers and who is already afraid of them. I am a teacher, mother, step daughter of Bishop Dennis V. Lyons, and Aunt of JCPS students and I will pull my kids and campaign for our community to pull their kids and we home school until they get this fixed. 

This is not to control a shooter situation it to control our babies with fear and our request is to allow the local district to make the decision of having armed officers in their Schools.

Will you take a bullet for me?

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

With the school year approaching, we are left to consider the inevitable discussion of school shootings. I’m entering my twelfth year of teaching and every year I have students ask me about school shootings. Will you block the door with your body? Will you take a bullet for me? Will you run away? We only have one door, what do we do if the gunman gets to the door? Do we break the window and get out that way? Are you scared? Do you think about it? What about where your kids go to school? Do you think your kids’ teachers will take a bullet for them? 

When I was growing up, school shootings were not a thing. We didn’t even consider the possibility. There had been a few during my lifetime, but the world changed for me as I watched Columbine unfold in the spring of my 8th grade year. I sat transfixed on the couch watching as teenagers ran with their hands on their heads out of the building. I remember thinking they looked so grown up. I was fourteen and getting ready to enter high school in a few short months. The concept of the same thing happening at my school never occurred to me. It was outside of the scope of my imagination. School shootings were not common, until all of the sudden they were.

I know when the change happened. I know there has been a slow eroding of the feeling of safety within a school while I was teaching. I could feel the gradual change until it was a landslide. Sandy Hook happened during my fifth year of teaching. I left school to get my own children from daycare, a three year old and an infant; they seemed so tiny as I clung to them for several minutes before the drive home. It was the day before Winter Break and I thought surely we would do something as a nation. Someone would do something. I was wrong.

I stood in front of my juniors on December 14, 2018 this past school year and reminded them that today was the anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook. I had a student look at me and say “Which one was that again?” I looked around the room at confused faces and I realized that there have been so many school shootings in their lifetimes that they couldn’t remember the one where the little kids died. As a parent and a teacher, that day is irrevocably burned into my consciousness and there have been so many since then that my students didn’t even register the memory. They would have been twelve years old in 2012, just two years shy of my age when Columbine seared my memory. It was just another school shooting to them.

The growing trend of mass shootings have left schools scrambling to find ways to protect their children. We have heard a resounding no from legislators when it comes to asking for changes at the national level to ensure the safety of children. Parents and public school teachers are no match for lobbyists. We went from hiding and pretending classrooms were empty to actively training our children in how to fight if an attacker gets into the room. Pick up the things closest to you and throw them. No, it won’t hurt the attacker, who will likely be wearing body armor, but it might startle them so some of you can get away. Some of you. Not all of you. Some of you, children, will die. We don’t know which ones. It’s a price our country is apparently willing to make. 

It’s Essential We Quit Matt Bevin

Jason Starr Nelson

You may have seen the meme, or perhaps an article, which states employees quit bosses, not jobs. Perhaps you’ve seen the myriad of social media posts that list characteristics of strong leaders. Regardless, we all recognize a strong leader when we see one – unless you spend your days under a rock and only come out when you hear hateful rhetoric. It’s clear, Matt Bevin is incapable of leading Kentucky, and it’s time to quit him.

I question whether he even wants to lead, or govern. He appears to be only interested in self-promotion and helping special interest groups. The rich boy from New England has no real concern for working-class citizens of Kentucky.

For some giggles, let’s count ways Bevin has shown strong leadership. Done. That came to, zero. Now, let’s get more serious and consider his actual leadership.

Most recently, a prominent member of Bevin’s own party, Republican Dan Seum, who represents southern Jefferson County and Bullitt County endorsed Democratic candidate for governor, Andy Beshear. Oh, that’s more than a flesh wound. 

“This is not about partisan politics,” Seum stated in a video alongside Beshear. “This is about who is going to lead this state in the next four years. Today, we have a governor who has failed miserably in the pension issue and has spent the last year running around the state insulting everyone, including the four teachers in my family.”

OK, a one-off incident of party revolt. Wait, there’s more. When the republican-controlled house and senate passed a pension-relief bill for quasi-state employees, at the urging of the governor, Bevin shocked everyone, including members of his own party, when he vetoed the bill.

“I’m absolutely stunned,” Taylor Mill Republican Chris McDaniel, who chairs the Senate budget committee, stated in a Courier-Journal article.

McDaniel also said Republicans kept the governor well-aware of any changes in the bill and Bevin never expressed concerns. However, once passed, Bevin cited the exact concerns that critics of the bill stated prior to its passage. Republican Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer and Republican House member Jerry Miller were others expressing shock.

Was Bevin even paying attention? Was this a publicity stunt? I’d love to spin on that hamster wheel during Bevin’s thought process. We may never know what drives his decisions (cough, greed and self-promotion, cough), but we do know these actions are not indicative of a strong leader.

On top of the fact that the left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right is doing, Bevin’s hateful rhetoric is no quality of an effective leader. He attacks and insults his critics, calls teachers thugs and blames them for alleged sexual abuse and murder of children. In our state, we’d simply say, “bless his heart,” when he speaks. You know that’s not a compliment.

So, to solve this pension issue, he calls a special session and takes forever to whip the votes needed for a bill that costs Kentucky $827 million and doesn’t do anything to deal with the unfunded liability. In fact, he cited the chances of HB 358 being defeated in court as one of the reasons for vetoing the first bill, and it turns out, this new bill could also face defeat in court. 

That special session cost the state at least $330,000 and Bevin’s proclamation attempted to limit the powers of the legislature and basically turn them into minions, rather than elected officials. Sound like a quality leader, or an authoritarian who lost his binky?

There are so many more examples of poor leadership, such as telling those in West Louisville to pray the violence away. Yes, we welcome prayer as much as any. In fact, I attempt to pray Bevin away every night. However, some actual governing on the topic would be helpful, too. 

Now, let’s give credit where credit is due. Bevin is a strong leader on the pro-life front, if you ignore the fact he endorsed a pro-life candidate in New England, and the fact that he cut taxes on the rich and passed that burden onto poorer Kentuckians.

This is one of those pieces that could go on forever, but attention spans being what they are and all, requires me to wrap it up. So, if people quit bosses, then people should also quit those political leaders who exemplify poor leadership. Bevin is the poster-child for poor leadership. Let’s quit him in November and turn to someone who has demonstrated the quality leadership skills we’re looking for – Andy Beshear.

Kentucky Needs Universal Pre-K

Katie Cohen

What is Universal Pre-K?

Universal Pre-K is a government-funded, early childhood education and care program available to all 4-year-olds can.  Enrollment is not based on eligibility criteria like family income.

Why Universal Pre-K?

Pre-K teaches communication skills to early learners

Early learners are provided with the opportunity to socialize with classmates throughout the day.  With support from educators, they learn to listen and communicate in academic tasks. Communication skills are vital for Kindergarten and beyond. 

Pre-K teaches pre-literacy skills to early learners

Early learners participate in an optimal amount of academic tasks focused on pre-literacy skills.  Exposure to the alphabet, rhyming, initial sound identification, oral reading, and choral responses gives early learners with a head start on academics they will face in Kindergarten and beyond. 

Pre-K promotes motor skills in early learners

During academic and play activities, early learners increase motor skills.  When they run, skip, and play outside, gross motor skills develop. Fine motor skills develop when they pick up a pencil (and write), color, sort items, build with blocks, race toy cars, play cards/ matching games, use utensils to eat, and perform hygiene tasks including hair brushing and teeth brushing.

Pre-K provides care to early learners

Preschool provides early learners with sufficient time to learn and play.  The length of the day is accommodating for many families’ work schedules which helps families and children wish schedules and financially. 

Pre-K provides nutrition to early learners

During the day, early learners eat nutritious meals and snacks that give them the energy they need to do their best.  They eat breakfast in the morning when they arrive and lunch at midday. Following their nap, early learners eat a snack.  Mealtime is very structured and is emphasized as an important part of the day. Students learn to get themselves ready for meals by cleaning up their areas and washing their hands.  They sit at a table to eat with peers which promotes social-emotional development, as well as, conversation and communication skills. 

Pre-K connects early learners to health care

Early learners are required to have vision and hearing screenings to enroll in preschool.  By attending these health-related visits, families also gain access to further health care including dental, mental health, nutritional, and general medicine.  

Pre-K prepares early learners for Kindergarten and beyond

Data indicates that students who attended preschool are more likely to succeed in Kindergarten and academically throughout elementary school.  Data also indicates that students who attend preschool are less likely to be referred for special education services, less likely to drop out of high school, and less likely to commit violent crimes. 

Pre-K connects early learners to social services

By attending preschool, early learners and families gain access to social services.  Social workers and other service workers can assist families with living conditions, family dynamics, behavioral health needs, and much more.

Pre-K provides early learners with structure

Structure is vital to the learning environment.  By attending preschool, early learners acquire skills to follow expectations and routines more independently.  Structure is provided during morning routines, transitions, whole group activities, handwash routines, mealtime, rest time, and dismissal. This skillset helps early learners transition to Kindergarten. 

Pre-K keeps early learners clean and healthy

Early learners learn the importance of hygiene via a variety of lessons, as well as structured handwashing multiple times throughout each day.  The preschool curriculum includes instruction on foods, exercise, and healthy choices. 

Pre-K promotes independent thinking in early learners

As part of the preschool curriculum, early learners learn to identify their first and last names, address, phone number, and birthday.  Early learners also practice problem-solving skills through authentic experiences. They have many opportunities to demonstrate knowledge.  

Pre-K teaches early learners how to “do school”

For early learners who haven’t had the opportunity to “do school”, it can be a challenge to start the school year in Kindergarten where they must follow routines and expectations as well as learn academics. Universal Pre-K provides the school experience to early learners before enrolling in Kindergarten making them more prepared to perform their best during Kindergarten and beyond. 

Wouldn’t it be great for Universal Pre-K to be an opportunity for all 4-year-olds?  

Please show support! Attend the Rally for Pre-K on August 10th 2-4 at Brown Park

Where Have All the Teachers Gone?

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

As Kentucky deals with a multitude of unfilled education positions with just weeks before the start of school, people are left asking “Where have all the teachers gone?” For those who have been in the education profession for any length of time, we could have told you this was coming. 

When we discuss the needs of teachers, we are often told that teaching is a “calling” and we should be “in it for the kids.” We are in teaching for children. These are our kids and we are always fighting on their behalf. Without exception, things that look like benefits for teachers are also benefits for students. From the logical, such as smaller class sizes facilitating more one-on-one instruction for students, to the long term, such as pensions being a means of encouraging talented young people to pursue education and make a difference with students, benefits for teachers are always benefits for students. Whenever we rally, we rally for our kids.

Teacher retention has long been an issue. According to the US Department of Education, we now have nearly 50% of teachers leaving the profession within their first five years. Read that again. Almost half of the teachers who enter the profession are gone within half a decade. Teachers leave for all kinds of reasons, but it has become especially difficult to survive in this profession as hit after hit comes from elected officials. Our pensions are at stake, we’re fighting off vouchers at every turn, and it seems we spend most of our free time being politically active. For the public looking in on educators, they see these issues and ask “Who would want to be a teacher?”

Educators have been able to view the slowly boiling frog for decades now. Where have all the teachers gone? As we lose our mentors, it becomes harder and harder to maintain the profession. Following the 2018 General Assembly, Kentucky teachers were dealt a hefty blow as we lost the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program (KTIP). While KTIP wasn’t perfect, it facilitated a mentor relationship between new teachers and a veteran teacher, an administrator, and a university contact. While completing the sometimes stressful program, teachers made relationships where they could lean on a multiple veterans as a new teacher. Rather than removing the program entirely, which was done for budgetary reasons and to facilitate more local control, fostering a mentor program with less paperwork would have been better.

The lack of mentor teachers has been a slowly growing problem. As more teachers leave the profession, the dynamic of experience has changed drastically. During the late 1980s, the average amount of experience for teachers nationwide was 14 years. By the late 2000s, students were actually most likely to encounter a teacher with two years or less experience. The disparity is greater in schools traditionally labeled as struggling where the average amount of experience can drop even further. There is nothing wrong with young teachers. Young teachers are vital to our profession, but without veterans, they are leaving the profession at a faster rate than before. 

How did this happen? There is a strong correlation with the dates listed and the advent of public policy that began to significantly affect the education profession. With the implementation of high stakes testing, laws such as No Child Left Behind, and competitive grants with an educationalist slant such as Race to the Top, teachers have left or never even started the profession. While it’s easy to point and lay blame at the feet of our elected officials in Frankfort, this is a nationwide issue that will only worsen as time goes on.

Fixing this will take a concerted effort with voices of teachers at the forefront. Teachers are education professionals and we need to be treated like the experts that we are. Do you want to fix the exodus of teachers and encourage young people to enter this profession? We have to start treating education like the necessary profession that it is. Student teaching should be a paid program pairing emerging educators with veteran teachers for longer than the mere weeks that we get. Teachers need to be allotted more time to engage in professional pursuits, from professional development to reflection. It won’t be a quick fix and it will take a shift in understanding the composition of school, but we have to do something. The future of public education has been in a precarious position for longer than we’ve had this governor. This is an entire American problem and there’s no reason Kentucky can’t lead by example as we work to fix our country’s education system.

Bevin Wants Working Poor’s Last Dollar

Jason Starr Nelson

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently voiced his opinion that Kentucky should not have income tax and should rely on a consumption-based tax system. If re-elected, this is an idea we could expect him to push.

Here’s what he told the chamber of commerce:

“I would like to see income taxes, for example, start to not have a six in front, but a five, then a four, and a three, and to move on down to where we don’t have a state income tax.”

Bevin believes a lack of income tax would attract companies “as employees understandably care about these things.”

Not paying income taxes sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Currently, 9 states, such as Nevada, Florida, Washington, among others, do not have state income tax. Two others do not tax wages, such as Tennessee, but do tax investment income. I sure would like to bring home more of my paycheck, wouldn’t you?

Here is one of those ideas that we take in and immediately think, yeah, I want to keep more of my money. However, Bevin hopes you don’t examine the issue closely, being that we are among the poorest states in the nation, and there lies the issue with consumption-based tax systems.

Our state legislature recently dropped the tax rate on the wealthiest citizens, cutting revenue and passing the burden onto poorer citizens. If our tax system is based on consumption, we would further burden the working poor, a term that shouldn’t exist, but that’s another article.

First, to replace income tax and other tax structures, the tax rate must be high, perhaps as high as 23-34 percent, according to most estimates. We would also have to tax everything, meaning food, water, and other basic essentials. Even items like mortgage interests and student loans could be taxable. Retirement investments could be taxed twice. Income deposited into a Roth IRA has already been taxed. Under a consumption-based system, it could be taxed again upon withdrawal. Ultimately, Kentuckians would pay more taxes.

The median household income in Kentucky is only $48,375. At the state’s 5 percent flat tax rate, an average family is paying $2,418.75 in state income taxes. It’s estimated a family spends 6 percent of their income on food per year, so they would spend an extra $700 per year with a consumption tax. How about buying a new car? If you purchased a $20,000 car, you would pay $3,400 in additional taxes, on top of our current 6 percent sales tax. 

Poor families will be subjected to a higher overall percentage of taxation. If a family making $20,000 annually ended up paying $2,000 in taxes, so could a family making $200,000. The poor family would be paying 10% of their total income while the wealthier family would be paying 1%. This is hardly a fair system.

In other words, poorer Kentuckians would pay a higher percentage of their income toward taxes than wealthier citizens, and if Bevin suggested a lower rate to offset this a bit, poorer families would still carry more of the tax burden and it likely wouldn’t produce enough revenue for the state.

Another side-effect would be less production of new goods, perhaps leading to fewer jobs and hurting the overall economy. People would be discouraged from purchasing new goods due to high taxes, so they would gravitate toward used goods. This would in turn drive up the price of used goods, causing Kentuckians to spend more of their income.

Those who support a consumption-based tax system, such as Bevin, argue households could avoid paying taxes every year. Yes, if you never bought anything. How realistic is this idea? 

Supporters also argue it would increase the overall tax base. This is true, but at the expense of poorer families, and in a state as poor as Kentucky, it could lead to a total economic collapse. This type of system would actually decrease the value of the dollar and limit the purchasing power of all Ketnuckians, which is never good in consumer-based economy. If there is no one left to purchase the goods, what happens to the producers of goods? We all know the answer. So long term, less tax revenue would be generated year by year due to a lack of purchasing power and tough decisions by Kentuckians about what to purchase, leading to a decline in jobs, and yes, a further decline in revenue. Our economy would find itself in a downward spiral that it from which it may never recover.

Bottom line, a consumption-based tax system breaks the backs of low-income Kentuckians. States without income tax often have something to offset the loss of revenue, such as very high tourism. The tax burden should be lifted from the working poor and middle class and corporations and wealthier Kentuckians must pay their fair share. We must close all tax loopholes and seek revenue from new ventures, such as marijuana, gambling, and sports betting. 

What’s the Deal with Fancy Farm?

Cassie Lyles

You’ve probably seen the buzz online from JCTA or the 120, maybe some other groups you are connected to about a little event that will take place on August 3rd in Fancy Farm, Kentucky.  You might wonder why on earth a little church picnic so far west would matter to politics in Kentucky, but for those of us who have been political junkies all along know that if you want to be seriously considered as a candidate in Kentucky, you have to be brave enough to take the stage at this heated event.   When Governor Bevin did not show up last year, it was taken as quite the insult.

Kentucky has a long history of intense politics.  Since 1880 St. Jerome’s Parish in Graves County has hosted the Fancy Farm Picnic as a fundraiser.  In the beginning, politicians would simply mingle with attendees, but that grew into one of the most important political speaking events in the state, due to its original timing right before primaries.  Democrats sit to the left side, Republics to the right, and the past several years, Libertarians have made a showing, sitting toward the middle back. You have to get there extremely early to get a seat under the awning, but bring a lawn chair and there’s plenty of space surrounding the pavilion.  The quips and jabs, cheering and jeering involved in this even are infamous. Last year, Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes started her speech by saying, “It’s a hot one folks. People are sweating here today like Matt Bevin at a KEA meeting.” This is just a sample of the kind of shade that is thrown.  Check out her whole speech:

Alison Lunderan Grimes’s 2018 Fancy Farm Speech

The speakers list for this year is posted on Fancy Farm Politics Facebook page and is shown here.  

It’s not just a political event, however.  There is also bingo, various races, and most importantly some seriously good barbeque.  Seriously, don’t sleep on the buffet lunch that the parish puts together, especially the lima beans and homemade pies.  This event is one that you really need to experience for yourself, and this is definitely the year to do it. Western Kentucky is beautiful, and the energy you will take away is surreal.  Show up and make it known that we are going to do the work for the elections in November. Then, do the work. So much is on the line. You might be inspired to volunteer for a campaign or hear something that helps you explain to your friends and family why they should vote for public education candidates.  It’s a long drive, but it is worth it.

I know It’s Hard – Stay Engaged Anyway

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

Teaching is a hard job. We already know that. We’re tired before the school year even starts. We know that our job has only gotten harder in recent years and that’s not even counting the governor taking jabs at us at every given opportunity. These past few years have awoken a mass of educators to the perils that await us if we are not engaged.

So what now?

We have to stay engaged and fighting, especially as we work to win back the governor’s seat and in the lead up to session. It’s not enough to join the fight when session begins or as malicious legislation enters committee. This is Kentucky. We all love basketball right? Or we at least understand it. Think of session like March Madness.

Great teams aren’t made during the tournament. They practice and train for months and years to build up to a championship bid. It takes long hours of practice and an entire season worth of games to even get into the tournament. The problem with only staying active during session is that it’s like skipping your season and all of your practice and then thinking you can still make it to the championship game.

Teachers wait to enter the Annex during the 2018 Regular Session

Many educators are getting a crash course in how legislation works from how bills are made to even who the different legislators are. When I first became politically active at the state level, the only reason I knew who my Representative was is because she lived across the street from me! There’s nothing wrong with joining the game late and learning as you go. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help in understanding what is happening. It’s easy to try to look for quick answers, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned as I entered this fight: there are no quick answers. All of the answers are long and have decades worth of history to sort through. The trick is to ask. We were all new to this at some point. When you miss your first free throw, you don’t quit playing altogether. You work and you practice and you learn what works for you. 

There are a lot of different ways you can stay engaged. As we lead up to the gubernatorial election, you can donate and volunteer with the campaign. Keep yourself up to date on the other races that are happening. My children and I canvassed neighborhoods for the Beshear campaign and none of the people we talked to knew there were other races besides the governor seat. Not a single one. And that’s not a judgement. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have known either! In addition to governor and lieutenant governor, other races on the ballot include attorney general, secretary of state, agriculture commissioner, state treasurer, and state auditor for everyone in the state. 

The off season is also a great time to get to know your legislators. As a Kentucky resident, you have a House representative. There are 100 House representatives, with 61 Republicans and 39 Democrats. Jefferson has 18 representatives whose districts fall either entirely or partially in our county. You also have a state senator. There are 38 state senators with 29 Republicans and 9 Democrats. Yes nine, the single digit. Jefferson has 8 state senators, of whom 7 are Democrats. You can find out who your legislators are using the General Assembly website. If you have a legislator you want to talk to who isn’t in your district, oftentimes they’re willing to still meet with you. I’m always honest with legislators about my district and never lie about being a constituent. Most times, just being a teacher can be enough to get you a phone call or a meeting. For tips on how to talk to legislators, check our previous post from Metro Councilwoman Nicole George.

I have yet to have a legislator make me feel ignorant for asking a question. These relationships can become very important as we move through the next session when you have questions about whether or not a bill is dead or alive. When I ask questions, legislators rarely sugarcoat things and they’ve never lied to me when I reach out. It’s also important to remember that legislators won’t agree with you completely on everything and that’s okay! No one’s perfect, not even you. Sometimes you’ll need to reach out and talk to legislators who are in a different party than yours. These relationships are still valuable. You just have to stay on the topic of education.

When all else fails, just ask questions. If you see another educator engaged, ask what they’re doing and how they do it. That’s how I learned. I wasn’t magically born with the ability to navigate Frankfort. Not even the legislators were! There’s so much work to be done that I’ve never met another politically active teacher who refuses to help me learn the ropes. This is also a good time to look for a more active role in your union. Every person I’ve met within JCTA and KEA is knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to legislative issues.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey meeting with teachers during the 2019 Regular Session

The race is long. This is a marathon. We can’t sprint to the end when legislation that troubles us comes up during session. We have to be active and engaged in the months leading up. There is enough work to go around, so we all need to work together as we continue to fight for our kids.

The NEA Representative Assembly and How You Can Get Involved

Cassie Lyles

Do you know how every year you get these emails from JCTA asking you to vote for delegates for the NEA RA?  Have you ever wondered what that’s all about? Five years ago I didn’t know what it was or why it should matter to me, then a fellow JCTA member encouraged me to run to go, and I’ve attended for the past four summers.  This was the turning point for me that got me more involved. It greatly extended my understanding of our organization at a local, state, and national level and convinced me that I have the power to make a difference.

  For those who may not know, NEA RA stands for the National Education Association Representative Assembly.  It is the largest democratic meeting in the world. Between 8,000 to 10,000 NEA members are elected from state and local affiliates around the nation to attend.  Over the course of a few days in the summer, we vote on our organization’s budget, legislative program, amendments to our organization’s constitution, as well as the actions we want our leadership to take over the course of the year.  In between the business, there are inspirational speeches, performances, and recognitions for awards. As a civics teacher, the sight and sound of that many people making decisions together by acclamation or by standing is astounding. I stood in awe of the power that individuals and groups have to sway debate.  I never knew that I could have a voice in determining the direction of my organization! It’s an exhilarating thought. One of our own members, Kumar Rashad, had two new business items that were debated and passed and are now a part of what NEA must accomplish during this year. If you ever thought you have no voice in our local, state, or national organization, I assure you that you can.

One of the beautiful things about the Representative Assembly is that you network and make friends with educators all over our state, but also throughout our nation.  I sat by another social studies teacher from Virginia on a bus last year and we still send lesson ideas back and forth. Through joining caucuses, you can find people with similar interests and support causes you care about.  This past year, one of the most popular items to purchase was a T-shirt that was collaboratively designed by the Hispanic Caucus and LBGT Caucus where all of the proceeds went to protecting LBGTQ+ asylum seekers needing assistance at the border.  There are more lighthearted caucuses as well. For example, the Karaoke Caucus and Kentucky’s own Bourbon Caucuses are both taking action to be official next year. You hear stories and get perspectives from all over the country. This year, I also participated in the NEA choir which did a surprise performance of a Hamilton medley with some slightly adjusted words, again just one more way you can connect with educators from other places.

The most exciting prospect at this year’s Representative Assembly, however, was the Strong Public Schools 2020 Presidential Forum.  Ten democratic contenders who are in the race for nomination came to answer questions submitted by members of the NEA: Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, and Kamala Harris.  Each of them had a minute to introduce themselves however they wanted and then three minutes for each of their three questions. You can watch the whole thing here:  If you want to skip explanations and introductions, the first candidate takes is actually introduced at 7 minutes and 50 seconds.

If you have not yet participated in a Representative Assembly in the past, I would enthusiastically encourage you to run for election next year.  It will give you a whole new perspective of this amazing organization to which we belong. You will build relationships with other Kentuckians and members throughout the nation but more importantly, you will know how decisions are made.  You will know more about the resources available to you and the power you have. It will absolutely blow you away.

So You Want to Go to the Capitol

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

There are many reasons one might visit the Capitol. It’s a lovely building, so you might visit as a tourist. You could visit to meet with your elected legislators or attend a committee meeting. During Session (or the impending Special Session), often visitors arrive to make their voices heard. How exactly do you go about visiting the Capitol? 

If you’re traveling, you’ll want to prepare before you go. It’s a good idea to bring snacks and water, depending on how long you’ll be there. For longer rallies, this can be an all day affair. It’s also easy to lose track of time while you’re there, so having something quick to eat is important. You’ll also want to pack a way to charge your phone, such as a cable with a portable power bank. While there are outlets in the Capitol, they’re not as plentiful as more recent buildings. For larger rallies, you’ll also need to add outdoor protection to your list. Sometimes you get in the building, and sometimes you don’t. Being prepared for the weather in case you are stuck outside due to capacity restrictions is the best idea. All of this can be carried around in a backpack, which you can bring into the Capitol building itself, though it will be searched.

Entering the Capitol can happen in two locations. There is the Capitol building that houses the House, Senate, and Supreme Court. There is a separate building called the Annex. You can enter either building and have access to both using an underground tunnel that connects them. This is especially useful when you are in Frankfort on cold days. The Annex houses the offices of the legislators, which is where they generally meet with their constituents. The Annex also has a place to purchase food, should you find yourself in Frankfort and checked in and without food. 

To enter either building, there is a newer sign in system. If you are 18 or older, you need to have your ID out and ready to be scanned using a new security check in system. As you check in, you select whether you are there on business or for tourism. If you are there for business, you type in the committee or legislator you are seeing. You then scan the back of your ID, take a selfie, and proceed through a metal detector. The new sign in system produces a sticker with your name, picture, and who or what you are there for. The previous sign in system used a sticker with just the date and your ID information was written down by a guard.

If you are in Frankfort during Session and want to watch what happens in either chamber, you will need a ticket to enter either side. You first wait in line for your ticket and then wait in line to enter the chamber of your choice with your ticket. I recommend wearing comfortable shoes when you visit during Session. You never know when you’ll get a chance to sit on especially busy days.

Frankfort is beautiful and visiting during non-Session times is wonderful. Sessions are built in the off season, so visiting and contacting legislators then is integral in facilitating any change you wish to see.