Beshear Proposes Education First Plan; GOP Responds Telling Governor Budgeting Will be Done Again in 2024

FRANKFORT – Surrounded by education leaders in the Capitol Rotunda Gov. Andy Beshear unveiled a new plan to address student learning loss brought on by the pandemic and years of denied pay raises that he said has led to record teacher vacancies.

Beshear’s plan comes as the Kentucky Department of Education revealed the latest statewide test scores show students of all ages struggled in core subjects of reading, math, science, and social studies.

“As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our students and our schools as they continue to recover from the interrupted learning that occurred over the past two years,” said Education Commissioner and Chief Learner Jason E. Glass in a news release last week. “These assessment results will serve as the baseline from which we will move forward as we look to new and innovative learning opportunities for all of Kentucky’s students.”

Glass said Kentucky’s results are consistent with what other states are experiencing.

Beshear is already facing criticism for the educational outcomes during COVID from some Republicans in the 2023 race for governor. As he seeks to shift in response, Beshear held the press conference and looked to share some blame for the outcomes with lawmakers who control the state purse strings.

“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.”

Beshear’s plan would call for lawmakers to re-open the budget when they return to Frankfort next year in the “short” 3-day session to provide funding for a 5 percent 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 most effective action we can take to keep new teachers in the classroom.

The comments drew a swift rebuke from Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

“The 2022 General Assembly budget provided record public school funding with flexibility for districts to spend to meet their local needs. In addition, we provided school infrastructure funding, the highest ever level of teacher pension contributions and robust school safety dollars,” Thayer said.

“Now, 3 years into his administration, Governor Beshear wishes to engage in the education funding policy discussion by holding a press conference. Governor, you can see our annex from your office window. Policy is developed here.,” he continued. “We do a biennial budget and have no plans to open up the budget in the middle of the cycle. Funding decisions won’t be made again until 2024.”

Thayer was not the only Republican to attack Beshear over education outcomes, the Republican Party of Kentucky also issued a response, calling Beshear the reason for loss of learning. 

According to recent reporting by the Courier-Journal, less than half of our students can read at grade level after Andy Beshear’s shutdown of our schools,” RPK spokesman Sean Southard said. “Our teachers and superintendents worked hard to navigate the difficulties of remote learning during COVID-19. In response, a Republican General Assembly provided historic funding to our school districts, empowering local leaders to make decisions on how best to recover from the pandemic. Despite his efforts to run away from his pandemic actions, students and parents will not forget the biggest contributor to learning loss in the Commonwealth of Kentucky: Governor Andy Beshear. Our children are worse off because of his actions and Kentuckians will never forget it.”