Kentucky Gov. Beshear pushes for higher teacher pay, universal pre-K as legislative session nears

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear renewed his pitch Thursday for greater 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 taking the oath of office for a second four-year term, the Democratic governor made repeated overtures to the Republican-dominated legislature, saying he wants to work with lawmakers. “We’ve got a chance to do special things, to focus on Kentuckians’ concerns when they wake up every morning – their job, the road that they’re going to drive on, their kids’ public school, whether they feel safe in their community,” Beshear said at his weekly news conference. KENTUCKY GOV. BESHEAR URGES FUTURE ADOPTION OF DISASTER RELIEF MODEL TO AVOID DELAYS Beshear’s first term featured annual policy clashes with Republican lawmakers, though he noted that he also signed more than 600 bipartisan bills into law, including measures to legalize sports betting and medical marijuana and to expand early voting. Looking ahead to the next legislative session that starts in early January, Beshear stressed two of his biggest policy objectives — hefty pay raises for school employees and state funded pre-K. Beshear has proposed an 11% pay raise for teachers and all public school personnel, including bus drivers, janitors and cafeteria staff. He has previously said it would amount to the single largest raise for Kentucky public school educators in at least 40 years. Such a raise is needed to make Kentucky more competitive with other states, the governor said. Kentucky ranks 44th nationally in average teacher starting pay and 40th in average teacher pay, he said. “This isn’t a red-or-a-blue issue,” the governor said. “This is a public education issue. And I look forward to continuing conversations with the General Assembly and trying to work to be more competitive with the states around us. Remember, our job is to beat Indiana and not beat up on each other. And this is one area that we’ve got to come together on.” In what could be seen as a pitch to rural GOP lawmakers, Beshear noted that school districts are the largest or among the biggest employers in some rural Kentucky counties. “What an 11% raise will do for local economies will be incredible,” he said. “But it’s also the right thing to do.” The governor also pressed for his plan to provide state-funded pre-K for all 4-year-olds in Kentucky. The proposal so far has made no headway in the legislature. Beshear framed his proposal Thursday as as a way to tackle student learning loss. “We talk about learning loss, rightfully,” he said. “But the biggest area of learning loss is kids not showing up kindergarten ready and never catching up. Let’s address it before it starts.” Learning loss blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic was a recurring issue in this year’s campaign. Beshear scored a convincing victory over Republican challenger Daniel Cameron in the November election. LONGTIME KENTUCKY SENATE LEADER DAMON THAYER SAYS HE WON’T SEEK REELECTION IN 2024 Statewide test scores released a few weeks ago showed Kentucky students made some improvement, especially in elementary schools, but education officials said considerable work remains to get back to pre-pandemic levels. Those struggles reflect a nationwide problem of lagging academic achievement. Beshear, meanwhile, praised lawmakers for the steps they have taken to bolster support for public education, but said more can be done. The two-year budget legislators passed last year funded full-day kindergarten and poured 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 considerably less than what Beshear proposed. Lawmakers will craft the state’s next biennial budget during the 2024 session.
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