Are Republicans in Danger of Reigniting Beshear’s Teacher Base Ahead of Election?

A slim majority of Republicans in the Kentucky House of Representatives passed a funding mechanism on Tuesday that would send public tax dollars to charter schools in Kentucky and set up two pilot charters including one in Louisville’s west end.

The single-day legislative melodrama that led to the passage of the bill in the House is reminiscent of moves Republicans made in 2018 to teacher pensions that led to teacher strikes, and gave rise to Andy Beshear’s takedown of Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin.

The passage of the charter school funding bill, House Bill 9, included gimmickry behind the scenes on Tuesday to shift the bill’s committee assignment and the lawmakers on that committee. Lawmakers in the House passed the bill with a 51 – 46 vote the same day.

While the legislation would not directly affect teachers the way the 2018 bill did, it could reignite a group a year before the election – just like the events four years ago. Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, narrowly won the 2019 gubernatorial election against Bevin by a slim 5,000 vote margin. Beshear won with a strategy that started with disaffected teachers – a group he continues to speak to with his “historic” version of the budget that would send a 5 percent raise to teachers and school staff and invest a billion dollars in public education.

The charter school funding bill met with a swift rebuke from Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a former school teacher.

“HB9, the charter school legislation, is bad for education and bad for Kentucky. Here’s why: For-profit companies will get rich off of YOUR tax dollars. These companies can open a charter and siphon off “administrative fees” with zero oversight,” Coleman wrote on Twitter. “Outsiders can swoop in and open charter schools in your community, using your tax dollars, with NO oversight, and send your money out of state.

“This bill will hurt high school sports,” she continued. “They can set up shop in one community and recruit the best players from surrounding teams, making it impossible for our community schools to compete.”

The legislative moves of 2018 awoke the sleeping giant that is teachers in Kentucky, and then Gov. Matt Bevin doubled down. In 2023, it will be Beshear making the case for what he has done which will likely include a veto of the charter school funding – and talking points surrounding education as the philosophical divide between the candidates.

There is a caveat to all the school-based heartburn popping up in legislatures around the nation, and that is education can cut both ways politically. Igniting teacher’s wrath is good for Beshear in Kentucky. But other fears, like the teaching of race in schools and mask mandates, became the top issue for Republicans to defeat an incumbent Democrat in the Virginia gubernatorial election last year to reach suburban voters.