- Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday called for increased spending on public education — including higher wages for public school and state-funded pre-K employees.
- Beshear’s offer comes as the next legislative session in Kentucky approaches.
- “We have an opportunity to do special things, to focus on the concerns of Kentuckians when they wake up every morning — their job, the road they’re going to drive, their kids’ public school, whether they feel safe in their community,” Beshear said at a news conference.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday renewed his call for increased investments in education to raise teacher pay and offer state-funded pre-K as he turns his attention to the upcoming legislative session.
Two days after being sworn in for a second four-year term, the Democratic governor made repeated overtures to the Republican-dominated Legislature, saying he wanted to work with lawmakers.
“We have an opportunity to do special things, to focus on the concerns of Kentuckians when they wake up every morning — their job, the road they’re going to drive, their kids’ public school, whether they feel safe in their community,” Beshear said at his weekly news conference.
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Beshear’s first term was marked by annual political clashes with Republican lawmakers, though he also noted that he also signed more than 600 bipartisan bills into law, including measures to legalize sports betting and medical marijuana and expand early voting.
Looking ahead to the next legislative session that begins in early January, Beshear emphasized two of his biggest policy goals — a significant increase in salaries for school employees and state-funded pre-K.
Beshear proposed increasing the salaries of teachers and all public school employees by 11%, including bus drivers, janitors and cafeteria staff. He previously said it would mark the largest single raise for public school teachers in Kentucky in at least 40 years.
The governor said such an increase is necessary to make Kentucky more competitive with other states. Kentucky ranks 44th nationally in average beginning teacher pay and 40th in average teacher pay, he said.
“This is not a red or blue issue,” the governor said. “This is a public education issue. I look forward to continuing the conversations with the General Assembly and trying to work on being more competitive with the states around us. Remember, our job is to beat the state of Indiana, not to beat each other. This is an area where we must We come together in it.”
In what could be seen as a pitch for rural GOP lawmakers, Beshear noted that school districts are the largest or among the largest employers in some rural Kentucky counties.
“What an 11% increase would do to local economies would be incredible,” he said. “But it’s also the right thing to do.”
The governor also pushed for his plan to provide state-funded pre-K for all 4-year-olds in Kentucky. The proposal has not achieved any progress so far in the Legislative Council.
Beshear framed his proposal Thursday as a way to address student learning loss.
“We’re talking about learning loss, really,” he said. “But the biggest part of learning loss is that kids don’t come to kindergarten prepared and never catch up. Let’s address that before it starts.”
Learning loss blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic has been a recurring issue in this year’s campaign. Bashir achieved a convincing victory over his Republican rival, Daniel Cameron, in the November elections.
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Statewide test results released a few weeks ago showed Kentucky students made some improvement, especially in elementary schools, but education officials said there was still significant work to do to return to pre-pandemic levels. These conflicts reflect a national problem of delayed academic achievement.
Meanwhile, Beshear praised lawmakers for the steps they have taken to bolster support for public education, but said more can be done.
Lawmakers in the last two years’ budget approved funding for full-day kindergarten and pumping money into teacher pensions and infrastructure. They increased the state’s main funding formula — known as SEEK — for K-12 schools, but the amount was far less than Beshear proposed.
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Lawmakers will draft the next biennial state budget during the 2024 session.