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In latest victory for protesting teachers, Kentucky increases education spending

Kentucky lawmakers have voted to override the Republican governor’s veto of a two-year state budget that increases public education spending with the help of a more than $480-million tax increase.

The votes came Friday as thousands of teachers rallied inside and outside the Capitol, forcing more than 30 school districts to close as Kentucky continued the chorus of teacher protests across the country. The rally in Frankfort took on a festival-like atmosphere as some teachers sat in lawn chairs or sprawled out on blankets as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s hit “Teach Your Children” bellowed from loudspeakers.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin noticed the teachers, too. He told reporters he saw them hanging out with their shoes off, smoking and “leaving trash around.” He bemoaned the “hundreds of thousands of children” he says were likely left home alone because schools were closed and some parents probably did not have time to find child care.

“I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them,” Bevin said, according to a video posted to Twitter by a reporter for WDRB-TV. “I guarantee you somewhere today a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were home alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them. I’m offended by the idea that people so cavalierly and so flippantly disregarded what’s truly best for children.”

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A spokesman for the Kentucky Education Assn. declined to comment on Bevin’s remarks.

Stephanie Ikanovic, who has been a teacher for 21 years, said earlier in the day she did not want to be out of her classroom, but said she felt compelled to come to Frankfort and advocate for her students.

“I want to be in my classroom instructing future citizens, but I’m afraid that spending at the state level is getting worse and worse, and we need those dollars for a 21st century education,” she said.

The two-year state operating budget includes record new spending for public education, fueled by a 50-cent increase in the cigarette tax and a 6% sales tax on some services, including home and auto repair. But Bevin vetoed both the budget and the money in it, calling the bills “sloppy” and “nontransparent.” He said they would not raise enough money to cover the new spending.

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The veto put Republican lawmakers in a tough position, asking them to vote a second time on a tax increase in an election year. But 57 House Republicans, later joined by just enough Senate Republicans, voted to override, asserting their independence after a tumultuous year marred by a sexual harassment scandal.

The unrest comes amid teacher protests in Oklahoma and Arizona over low funding and teacher pay. The demonstrations were inspired by West Virginia teachers, whose nine-day walkout after many years without raises led to a 5% pay hike.

In Arizona, after weeks of teacher protests and walkout threats across the state, Gov. Doug Ducey promised a net 20% raise by 2020.

In Oklahoma, teachers ended two weeks of walkouts Thursday, shifting their focus to electing pro-education candidates in November. Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation raising teacher salaries by about $6,100 a year and providing millions in new education funding, but many say the state’s schools still need more money.

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