Governor’s race: Raises, learning loss, busing costs top issues
Published 3:18 pm Friday, October 6, 2023
Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series examining the race for governor.
Teacher and bus driver shortages, pandemic learning loss, school choice – all are highly salient issues in the race for Kentucky’s next governor.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron have both shared extensive education plans on the campaign trail.
Here’s a reminder on what’s included in both plans, as well as their feasibility.
Raises for teachers, school employees
Beshear and Cameron have both committed to raising teacher salaries, but their plans differ in key ways.
First, Cameron said that if elected, he would raise the baseline teacher starting pay to $41,500.
Right now, according to the Kentucky Department of Education, the average starting salary for Kentucky teachers is $40,000.
This ranks 44th nationally, according to the National Education Association.
Cameron’s plan does not include raises for more experienced educators, but he thinks it will lead to pay bumps across the board anyway.
“There will be a ripple effect because of how the tiers are structured now within our education system,” he told journalists in August.
“And so we firmly believe that by increasing and raising starting pay that that will ultimately mean the other teachers that have been longer in service will get raises as well.”
Beshear disagrees. At a weekly presser, he responded that only raising starting pay would lead to pay compression, and subsequently, an exodus of those older educators.
The governor has his own ambitions for raises. He included an 11% raise for all schools employees, including teachers, bus drivers and other staff, in his education plan. The raises would cost $1.1 billion over two years.
This would raise average starting pay to $44,500. It would also raise average pay for all Kentucky teachers from $56,000 to $62,000, moving Kentucky from 40th in the NEA rankings to 25th.
Cameron said that Beshear’s plan is missing one critical component – a working relationship with the legislature, which passes the biennial budget.
He said that unlike Beshear, he consulted with the General Assembly before presenting his $100 million education plan.
Beshear said that after the election, he expects less politics at play, and a greater ability to get his plans passed.
Cameron’s wife, Makenze Cameron, also said at a campaign event that the 11% raises were not feasible.
State Budget Director John Hicks has since said that there are more than enough funds to support the salary raises and other aspects of the governor’s plan, if the legislature goes along with it.
In addition to starting pay increases, Cameron’s Catch-Up Plan is focused on other measures to help Kentucky students rebound from pandemic learning loss.
His plan includes a 16-week tutoring program to provide students additional math and reading instruction during the summer or after school. Cameron said he would model it after a similar Tennessee program.
Teachers and university education students participating in the program would receive bonuses and stipends, respectively.
It also includes continued support for measures giving teachers more resources to deal with increasing classroom discipline issues. Cameron said he would enforce a 2019 law with an unfunded mandate requiring school resource officers at every school.
“I know some districts are working in good faith in this area, but need more support to get it done. We will give them the help that they need,” he said.
Kentucky students’ math and reading proficiencies have dropped significantly since 2019, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the Kentucky Department of Education.
In 2019, Kentucky fourth-graders’ math proficiency was 40%, but has since dropped to 33%. Their reading proficiency also dropped from 29% to 21%.
Kentucky’s eighth-graders aren’t doing much better, with math and reading proficiency both falling four percentage points between 2019 and 2022.
Cameron has squarely placed the blame for learning loss on Beshear and the shutdown of schools to avoid the spread of COVID.
However, NAEP data shows that in all but fourth grade reading, Kentucky’s proficiency declines are comparable to the national drop in performance during the pandemic.
Beshear’s plan does not specifically mention learning loss, but it does include universal pre-K, which he said would help identify learning challenges earlier so that students are set up for later success.
After Jefferson County Public Schools’ first day bus fiasco, student transportation issues were top of mind for many Kentuckians.
According to the Kentucky Department of Education, during the 2022-23 school year, over 8,000 Kentucky bus drivers collectively drove over 98 million miles.
All that costs money – about $399 million a year.
The Kentucky legislature has not fully funded student transportation since 2004, although state law requires it.
However, in the 2022 budget, the General Assembly did increase funding from 55% of the total cost to 70% – $274.4 million per year.
Local school districts are left to pay the rest, through local taxes and by redirecting other funds to transportation.
JCPS, for example, got $19 million less in state funding than its actual cost.
Beshear’s plan would restore full transportation funding, in the hopes that it would help recruit and retain bus drivers.
Cameron has not said whether he would push for full funding. He also would not say whether he would support the division of JCPS.
While Cameron has not included private school vouchers in his education plan, it has not deterred Kentucky Democrats from criticizing him for his support of school choice measures.
Since last year, Cameron has expressed his support for private school vouchers and charter schools multiple times.
Supporters of these measures say they increase students’ choices in where they attend school, and thus their opportunities.
Detractors, including Beshear, argue that they would take much-needed funds away from public schools and into less accountable private schools.
Kentucky is the only state where charter schools are technically legal but not funded.
– Follow regional reporter Sarah Michels on Twitter @sarah_michels13 or visit bgdailynews.com.