Kentucky’s GOP Governor Says Teacher Protests Enable Child Sexual Assault

Matt Bevin’s comments outrage educators demonstrating at the state capitol.

Teachers from across Kentucky gather inside the state Capitol to rally for increased funding for education on Friday. Bryan Woolston/AP

On Friday, just hours after protesting teachers flooded Kentucky’s capitol building to rally against a pension reform plan and call for increased school funding, the state’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, suggested school closures caused by the striking educators were endangering children.

“Here’s what’s crazy to me,” Bevin told a reporter from WDRB. “You know how many hundreds of thousands of children today were left home alone? 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.” He spoke of children ingesting poison or being physically assaulted because they were home and “a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them.” 

The governor’s response to the striking teachers sparked outcry and disbelief from state lawmakers and educators. “My mouth was hanging open and I don’t even know what I can tell you,” Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Bevin’s comments came as thousands of teachers gathered in Frankfort on Friday to protest Bevin’s signing of a bill to overhaul the state’s pension system. They were also calling on Kentucky lawmakers to override the governor’s veto of a $22 billion budget bill that contained significant education funding. On Friday, the state house and senate reversed the veto.

The long-brewing demonstrations followed protests by educators in Oklahoma, Arizona, and West Virginia, who were frustrated about low pay and deep cuts to school funding. The showdown between Kentucky teachers and Bevin ramped up in recent weeks after he warned educators that it was illegal for them to walkout. The Kentucky Education Association recently joined a lawsuit filed by Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general, Andy Beshear, challenging the pension reform bill.