Lawmakers fund full-day kindergarten for Kentucky

Published 9:09 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Kentucky lawmakers passed last-minute spending plans Tuesday to pump money into full-day kindergarten and water projects and to pay off unemployment insurance debts as big-ticket budget items won broad support on the final day of this year’s legislative session.

Another measure still awaiting final action in the waning hours of the session would spend some of the state’s federal pandemic aid on school construction.

By dipping into federal and state funds, the spending spree topped $1 billion. It reflected some shared priorities between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican lawmakers. State government in Kentucky is expected to eventually receive about $2.4 billion from the pandemic aid package championed by President Joe Biden and passed by congressional Democrats.

One proposal winning final passage contained $140 million in state funds to support full-day kindergarten. The measure cleared the Senate on a 36-1 vote soon after it surfaced in a committee. The House later voted 90-3 to send the measure to the governor.

Kentucky’s school districts now get state funding for half-day kindergarten, with districts using local taxpayer money to pay for full-day services.

That spending plan included Beshear’s proposal to use $575 million in federal pandemic aid to repay a federal loan that kept the state’s unemployment insurance program afloat. The program faced an unprecedented surge in jobless claims last year due to COVID-19.

It also added another $50 million in federal money for broadband projects. Lawmakers already had allocated $250 million of federal aid to extend broadband service to underserved areas. Beshear also supported spending on broadband.

The Senate gave final approval Tuesday night to another bill that would allocate $250 million in federal pandemic aid for a water and wastewater grant program in Kentucky. Beshear also advocated using some of the federal money for such infrastructure work.

Another late-surfacing proposal would use $127 million of federal relief money for school facility construction and more than $50 million of the federal money for renovations at the state Capitol. It also contained $75 million in state money for construction projects at area vocational education centers. That proposal was still awaiting final action Tuesday night.

Beshear and legislative leaders have tried to hash out a plan to spend at least part of the federal aid before the session ends. If lawmakers don’t decide how to spend the money, it could create a need for a special legislative session later in the year to make those decisions.