Teachers chant, “Can you hear us now?” in the Capitol as lawmakers recess. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

For the third time in a week, Kentucky teachers pulled on red shirts, drove to Frankfort and waited in long security lines to remind lawmakers of one thing: They’re still here.

Teachers from Kentucky’s largest district forced three sickouts in seven days. For two straight days, over 98,000 students have not been in class, potentially losing access to meals as parents scrambled for last-minute child care.

And even more district closures are expected in the waning days of the session, as Jefferson County teachers appear unlikely to back down. Long days chanting in the Capitol and even longer lines to get into the House gallery don’t seem to be wearing on educators.

Building on past comments of cynicism borne out of last year’s sudden attempt at pension reform, JCPS board member Chris Brady tweeted Wednesday, “As long as the threat of Sewer Bill 2.0 is out there, I fear we’ll continue to have the possibility of unplanned days out of school.”

In Frankfort, the message on Jeffersontown Elementary teacher Marsha Ross’ neon yellow poster board sign echoes a larger sentiment: “I’d rather be teaching but this is important.”

Like many educators, especially those in JCPS, Ross is concerned that legislation giving tax breaks to those who donate to private school scholarships will pass. Such legislation could pull sorely needed money from underfunded public schools, she said.

Ross and others fear that millions of potentially missing revenue could end up indirectly funding private school scholarships and help more well-off families than the legislation intends. A family of four making less than $92,000 would qualify for a private school scholarship under the proposed legislation.

Her kindergarten students speak seven languages at home, Ross said. How can those families, already facing unfamiliar circumstances, work through a lengthy application process for a private school scholarship, she asks.

In a Facebook post in the style of “The New Colossus,” Ross said she will teach and support any student because that’s what public school teachers do.

“As for me, give me your kids that didn’t have breakfast this morning and who won’t get dinner tonight, the ones who are on their own after school,” she wrote. “I will teach them and feed them.”

Ross was one of the dozens who showed up in Frankfort Thursday morning, chanting, “Can you hear us now?” outside of the House chambers.

This year’s sickouts are smaller and more concentrated on Jefferson County teachers than last spring’s pension protests. Last March and April, with the protests situated around spring break, nearly every district closed.

Through sheer timing and a fresh wave of activism, hundreds of teachers descended on Frankfort to protest, clogging roads and leaving many educators to protest in the heat outside. One enterprising kid set up a lemonade stand a few blocks from the Capitol.

A year later, facing questions of how long they can continue protesting without losing public support, teachers continue to focus on a perceived larger attack on public education.

Last year, it was pensions; this year, funding is the heart of the issue. Both years, teachers voiced a negative perception of GOP lawmakers and Gov. Matt Bevin.

At the base of the Capitol stairs, one JCPS teacher had a clear Ariana Grande-inspired message for Bevin, who has criticized sickouts and berated teachers: “Thank u, next.”

JCPS teacher Sarah Dickinson channeled Ariana Grande in her sign for Thursday’s sickout. | Photo by Olivia Krauth