They were there in masses, but the first speaker hadn't stepped up to the microphone to talk about the importance of proper education funding before the elementary tune began to echo down the Capitol's front lawn and into the historic streets of Frankfort.
Inside the capitol building, Kentucky lawmakers were busy laboring over an unbalanced budget, making the job of what gets cut and what gets left alone highly complicated. But, according to the 21,000 educators who more than filled the Capitol's front lawn, the solution, when it comes to education, is as simple as A-B-C."
"It's not just about money," said Sharon Barker, president of the Kentucky Parent Teachers Association. "It's about our children and their future. We should invest in our students and teachers. Together, we can all play a role in making dreams come true for Kentucky children. Education of every child is imperative to the success of our commonwealth."
Barker was one of several state and national school officials who spoke at Wednesday's rally, urging legislators to allocate more state money for education. Despite the state's grim fiscal outlook, the teachers say legislators must find more money for school programs and teacher wages.
Chemayne Metcalfe Lowe, a media specialist at Hall Elementary School, took part in the massive rally. While she and co-workers waved signs of protest, Lowe said most were missing the point behind the gathering.
"We've been hearing a lot of talk about teachers rallying in Frankfort for staff security and more money, but that's really not the point," Lowe said. "The point is that when teachers' jobs are cut, then the children are the ones who suffer. The majority of the teachers have the children's interest at heart. And if we expect proficiency, then we're going to have to be able to pay for it."
The rally was organized by the Kentucky Education Association. KEA members toted bags of school-funding promotional material for legislators. The bags included big, inflatable crayons and postcards signed by teachers, and all the bags bore a legislator's name and photo.
"Go! Go! Go!" was chanted from the crowd as designated messengers (educators) raced up several levels of steps and into the capitol building to deliver the anti-education cuts packages. As the House recessed, some legislators stared out windows at the assemblage. A few others walked out into the crowd, discussing education funding with people from their districts. State Sen. Daniel Mongiardo appeared in the crowd several times during the lengthy event. His words for the education rally were "great" and "wonderful."
"I hope people will take notice and say we've got to do something, not just for today, but for the future," Mongiardo said. "Even if we just stop the cuts for this year, that's not going to make a difference for the next year or the year after that."
Mongiardo said the cure-all for the state's budget woes was a tax reform.
"We need to reform the Kentucky tax structure so that we have a broadened tax base so that we can give teachers raises next year and lower classroom sizes," he said. "Education has to be spared, and it looks like, right now, we're going to be able to that.. Sparing education from cuts is not enough, though. We have to start putting money into education more than the level we're funding it now."
Mongiardo was alluding to the news that soon spread over the capitol grounds, saying education would not undergo any additional cuts this year. The news was encouraging, but most educators say they are still wary.
"I'm encouraged, but there's still work that needs to be done," said Harlan Independent Schools Superintendent David Johnson. "I was impressed with today's turnout, and I believe the large number impressed upon our state leaders the need for help."
A caravan of about 40 Harlan Independent School District representatives took part in the rally. Several buses from the Harlan County District also traveled to Frankfort after taking part in an early-morning rally of their own led by Superintendent Tim Saylor at James A. Cawood High School.
Gov. Paul Patton issued a statement in support of the teachers later during the day. He said that since 1990 Kentucky's schools have improved despite having some of the lowest paid teachers in the nation.
"I'm proud of what our teachers have accomplished since the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed in 1990," Patton said. "Twelve years ago, we asked them to do the impossible and they responded."
Following the nearly two-hour rally, the mammoth group circled the capitol to send lawmakers a final message. Harlan Countians were a part of the march, too.
"We've showed solidarity," Lowe said. "Lawmakers were shown today the vast majority. This has been a visual representation that education is vital. It's important that government knows this, which I believe they do. They know it, now they've got to support it."