Jefferson County Public Schools is closed Wednesday — the second time in less than week a massive teacher “sickout” has forced Kentucky’s largest district to shut down.
JCPS does not have enough substitutes to cover the reported absences, the district announced early Wednesday morning.
Jefferson County teachers appeared to pull off a “wildcat” maneuver, staging a sickout despite the call from a statewide advocacy group to show up to work. It was not immediately clear whether other Kentucky districts would follow suit.
Social media posts show JCPS teachers felt their district could be heavily impacted by a controversial school-choice bill that still has a chance of squeaking through in the final days of the 2019 legislative session.
That bill, House Bill 205, would incentivize Kentuckians to donate to private school scholarship programs in exchange for annual dollar-for-dollar tax breaks up to $1 million.
Educators across Kentucky, including all 173 district superintendents, have voiced opposition to the bill, which they say would drain money from the state’s revenues and ultimately hurt public schools.
Supporters of the bill, meanwhile, argue that the bill gives more Kentucky families the ability to choose schools that best fit their children’s needs.
The bill was heard by the House appropriations and revenue committee on Tuesday, but lawmakers did not vote on the measure.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John “Bam” Carney, said he did not yet have the 60 votes needed for the legislation to pass out of the house.
But in a Facebook video posted Tuesday night, Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler told teachers they needed to remain on high alert.
“As we know, there’s lots of bundling and shady shenanigans that can happen at the ‘nth’-hour, at the end of a session when they feel they’re going to run out of time,” said Winkler, adding that lawmakers could tack the scholarship tax credit bill on to another piece of legislation.
Some have speculated that Republicans will attempt during a legislative conference committee to hitch the tax credit program to a larger tax reform package.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers from both legislative chambers are expected to meet Wednesday to continue hammering out a compromise on that tax legislation.
KY 120 United, the grassroots advocacy group that initiated a sickout on Feb. 28, had asked its members Tuesday night to focus on calling legislators, rather than calling out from school.
After JCPS announced its closure Wednesday morning, KY 120 United said in a statement it “did not ask for JCPS to take action” and that other districts were also cancelled Wednesday “due to weather and illness.”
“However, we hope to see many red shirts in Frankfort today,” the group said in a statement.
Nema Brewer, the group’s founder and a Fayette County Public Schools employee, addressed the discord in a Facebook video Tuesday night.