Governor continues fight to support public schools
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Oct. 27, 2022) – With the World Health Organization stating last month that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, Gov. Andy Beshear joined state education leaders today in the Capitol Rotunda to announce his Education First Plan.
The Governor’s plan aims to address student learning loss brought on by the pandemic and years of denied pay raises that have contributed to the state’s nearly 11,000 public school teacher vacancies, by providing funding for a 5% pay raise for school staff, universal pre-K, textbooks, technology and training, teacher student loan forgiveness and social and mental health services. The Governor is also asking lawmakers to consider restoring new teacher pensions, which he said is the single most effective action we can take to keep new teachers in the classroom.
The General Assembly will have an opportunity to pass the plan during the 2023 regular session.
“In many ways, COVID-19 has been our generation’s deadliest enemy, taking more than 17,000 Kentucky lives, becoming the third-leading cause of death and even shortening the life expectancy of Kentuckians. Britainy and I personally experienced both the loss of people we love and what it was like to be parents of elementary and middle school students during the pandemic,” Gov. Beshear said. “In order to help ensure we are doing everything possible to help every child reach their full potential and to rebound from what history shows us occurs as the result of difficult and deadly times of pandemic or war, we must address our teacher and staff shortages in our schools.”
The Governor said that, during the height of the pandemic and through case surges, every state in the country took some type of step to save lives. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, during the 2019-2020 school year, all public school buildings in the United States closed in response to COVID-19. Schools in 48 states remained closed or offered remote instruction through the end of the year. Throughout 2021 and 2022 in Kentucky, local school districts had to decide when to implement remote learning days to prevent more illnesses.
Instruction disruptions have persisted across the nation as staff, students and their families became ill and missed school. Through these challenges, though, Kentucky students’ 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress performance was found to be consistent with those of the rest of the nation.
“Right now, Kentucky has a record-setting revenue surplus, with the revenue trend running 11% higher than last year and substantially above estimates. When you combine the strong fiscal management by my administration with the greatest year for economic development in our state’s history, and more than 13,200 new jobs announced this year, now is the time to invest in our public schools,” Gov. Beshear said.
“Ensuring every child in Kentucky has access to a world-class education means we must put our kids first, support the people who show up for our kids and make certain our schools have the resources to do what we’ve asked them to do,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman. “Our Education First Plan does that, proving our administration’s commitment to public education is unwavering.”
“I think we all recognize that we are in a vastly different place today than we were three years ago, and it’s important to acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on many students, including slowing academic progress, increased social emotional and mental health needs and delayed behavioral development,” Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Demetrus Liggins said. “It is also important to recognize that schools are a reflection of the communities we serve and the supply chain and workforce challenges that are affecting other industries across our state and nation are also playing out in education with the shortage of teachers and other critical positions that impact school operations.”
Education First Plan
Raise Teacher and School Staff Pay
Since taking office, Gov. Beshear has supported an across-the-board educator raise for every school employee, from teachers to bus drivers. Once again, the Governor is proposing to fund a 5% raise for every school employee in Kentucky. This raise would be above and beyond any recent raises by school districts. At a time when schools struggle to recruit and retain educators, a pay raise is necessary.
“It is simple. We cannot expect to make up for math losses if we don’t have math teachers,” Gov. Beshear said. “According to the National Educational Association, Kentucky ranks 44th in the nation for starting salaries, with new teachers averaging about $37,373 per year. We need to increase our teacher’s pay and make sure they are paid what they deserve.”
“Earlier this year, I asked folks in my district to nominate people in the community for special recognition, people who are doing great things for others. And unsurprisingly, most of the nominees were people who work in our public schools,” Rep. Rachel Roberts of Newport said. “Their former students told stories about how school staff went above and beyond, making sure students were fed, and housed, and felt safe and seen and had a trusted and consistent adult in their lives. And most of these stories took place before the pandemic hit, before we asked even more from educators.”
“If we learned one important lesson during the pandemic, it is this: Kentucky students and teachers are resilient and they meet challenges head on, but we also learned that we must not take teachers or schools for granted; we must provide them with the fiscal resources they need to meet post-pandemic academic, social, emotional and wellness needs of Kentucky’s children and youth as we move past the pandemic with grit and determination,” Kentucky Board of Education Chair Lu Young said.
“We didn’t get into our teacher pipeline problems overnight, and similarly, solving these challenges is going to take a direct and multi-part effort that will take years of focused investment,” Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Jason Glass said. “We must start addressing the financial reasons why our potential future teachers don’t go into the profession and why our current teachers leave earlier than we’d hoped.”
Fund Universal Pre-K
The Governor’s last budget proposal called for a historic investment in the commonwealth’s youngest learners by providing universal preschool for all 4-year-olds and full-day kindergarten for every Kentucky child – for the first time ever. This year’s Kentucky School Report Card on the Kindergarten screen showed 62.7% of Kentucky’s children were ranked below average for academic/cognitive abilities. Funding pre-K will ensure learning losses do not continue for these children who will be starting school.
“This year, I am again proposing funds to support universal pre-k. We know pre-K provides positive outcomes on children’s early literacy and mathematics skills and foster long-term educational success,” Gov. Beshear. “To become and stay a top economy in the U.S. we have to continue to build a world-class education system, and that starts with universal pre-K. Pre-K is also the single most effective step we can take to immediately increase our workforce.”
Studies have also shown that universal pre-K significantly bolsters the workforce and saves families tens of thousands of dollars. Finally, pre-K has proven to be an effective time for screening and identification of learning challenges, with early intervention yielding best results.
“The pandemic punctuated the complexity of the student experience and helped to emphasize the multi-faceted approach schools must take to support the whole child – the social, emotional, physical and academic needs of students that directly impact school success,” Young said. “With those aspirations in mind, the Kentucky Board of Education enthusiastically supports universal preschool and promotes the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child framework premised on the core belief that every student should be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and academically challenged.”
Restore Funding to Textbooks and Professional Development
Last year, the Governor proposed adding millions each year to restore funding for professional development, as well as textbooks and instructional resources, but lawmakers in Frankfort failed to pass this funding. The Governor is again proposing these funds for specialized training and materials aimed at addressing learning loss.
Launch Loan Forgiveness Programs
To further help keep teachers in the classroom, the Governor is once again recommending providing a student loan forgiveness program that will offer a maximum $3,000 annual award for each year of employment in a public school as a teacher.
“Obtaining higher education to advance in their careers is critical for our teachers, and we want to encourage them to complete higher education – so we must support them getting there,” Gov. Beshear said.
Support Social and Mental Health
The Governor said his administration has always believed that mental health is just as important as physical health.
“Given the vast challenges that all of us, especially our children, have faced through the pandemic and the many natural disasters, we must advocate for more social, emotional and mental health services for students,” Gov. Beshear. “Any teacher can tell you how important these services are.”
The Governor is again proposing to set aside funds to assemble statewide staff and eight regional Social Emotional Learning institutes so that educators have access to training on how best to help our students with their mental health. The Governor will provide two new grant programs for school districts to provide wrap-around services to students impacted by violence, substance abuse, child abuse and parental incarceration, and other training and resources to help students.
In March 2021, lawmakers overrode Gov. Beshear’s veto, leaving new teachers without the traditional, defined benefits pension plan, which guaranteed benefits after so many years of service. This action severely cut overall compensation for new teachers by eliminating the most valuable benefit and the only benefit aimed at retention. Now, new teachers are in a hybrid plan, where they are expected to pay more into retirement. In 2018, then-Attorney General Beshear led efforts to have the well-known “sewer bill” – which would have stripped teacher retirement benefits – struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
“During my administration, we have fully funded the pension system, and given the need for more teachers in our classrooms, the first thing lawmakers should do is restore teacher pensions,” Gov. Beshear said. “With the revenues we’re seeing this year, there is more than enough funding for all the pieces we’ve laid out today. When you look at long-term costs, it makes much more sense to hire one teacher now and retain them for 30 years versus hire one teacher now, have them quit in a year or two, and then face a constant cycle of turnover.”