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Gov. Beshear will ‘fight like heck’ to raise Kentucky teachers’ pay in upcoming session | In-depth

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that he will resume his push to raise teachers’ salaries as part of his proposed biennial budget, and a top Republican lawmaker said he expects “a robust conversation” on that topic during next year’s legislative session.

Beshear, Senate President Pro Tem David Givens and House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade were among speakers at the first day of 2021 Kentucky Education Summit, a two-day event at the Kentucky International Convention Center where stakeholders gather to discuss the future of education throughout the state.

Part of that future, Beshear said, should include higher wages for Kentucky’s educators.

The first-term governor pushed for $2,000 salary increases for teachers on the campaign trail, but such pay raises have not been included in budgets passed by the state lawmakers. Kentucky had a $1.1 billion budget surplus in fiscal year 2021, boosting the state’s budget reserve fund to $1.9 billion heading into the 2022 legislative session.

“The most important investment we can make is in you,” Beshear said during his opening remarks. “I continue to believe that all of our educators in Kentucky are underpaid, and it’s far past time for a raise.

“We’ve tried that in each of our last budgets, and you know what? The budget I submit in January is going to do it again, and I’m going to fight like heck to get it passed,” he said. “You deserve that raise.”

Givens, R-Greensburg, agreed that lawmakers need to discuss providing pay raises for teachers, saying he “will always be a proponent” of higher wages for Kentucky’s educators.

“What more pay for teachers would do is it would attract greater and deeper talent,” Givens said during a panel discussion with Meade, R-Stanford, on the future of education in the state after the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.

Classroom teachers should be prioritized for pay raises because they “have more impact on students’ lives than any policy or bill I’ll ever pass,” Givens said, though he also thanked school administrators for their work.

Exactly how lawmakers will handle proposals to raise teachers’ pay remains to be seen, however.

Givens told WDRB News that he expects lawmakers will be “leaning directly into” the question of teacher pay raises, though their approach will likely differ from across-the-board salary increases that have been sought by Beshear.

He suggested, for example, appropriating more money directly to school districts to handle pay increases. Such an approach would give local school systems “the latitude to invest in the educators if that’s what they need to make the investment in,” he said.

“If they’re a district that raised teacher pay last year and the year before that to attract and retain talent, then maybe they don’t need to raise teacher pay this year,” Givens said. “Maybe they do if they haven’t raised it and haven’t been able to keep and attract talent. Each district is unique.”

Lawmakers will need to consider the financial ramifications of teacher pay raises, namely the added expense of state contributions to public retirement benefits, he said. The state also needs to maintain a “healthy” rainy day fund, he said.

“The local decision to make a pay raise has a ripple effect in Frankfort because we make the pension contribution outside of that school district’s budget,” Givens said.

Beshear said his two-year budget proposal will also include other investments in education “that are vastly underfunded,” specifically mentioning technology and textbooks as examples.

“Everybody deserves to be a little bit better, especially when we are going to be in the best budgetary situation in the past 30 or 40 years,” the governor said. “It is time to invest.”

Beshear will also suggest including teachers and school personnel in his proposal to provide financial bonuses to essential workers who have remained in their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic with $400 million from federal stimulus dollars.

Givens says lawmakers are open to that idea as talks of such bonuses continue.

“I haven’t heard any resistance to that,” he said.

A legislative task force is also examining possible changes to per-pupil funding for the state, particularly the funding disparities that exist between school districts, Meade said. Another concern, he said, centers on teachers’ workloads as more laws and regulations governing their profession are passed.

“We have to focus on that and alleviating some of that workload and just getting them back in the classroom doing what they do best, and that’s teaching kids and not doing all of this administrative stuff at night,” Meade said.

Lawmakers will consider funding all-day kindergarten in the upcoming session alongside spending for school choice measures like charter schools and education opportunity accounts. All-day kindergarten funding was tied to a proposal in this year’s session that included the creation of education opportunity accounts, flexible funds that in part would allow families in Kentucky’s most populous counties to pay for private school tuition.

A Franklin Circuit Court judge struck down that program, which included $25 million in tax credits annually for five years for donors to groups that handle education opportunity accounts, in an October ruling. An appeal is expected.

Beshear said he believed Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd’s ruling “is exactly right,” but Givens suggested that school choice will continue to be a subject for lawmakers’ consideration next year.

“We’ve got to create opportunities for those students, whether it’s with the current system or with new systems,” Givens said. “… I think when we talk about funding for education, many of us in the General Assembly see funding for education as involving charter schools and private schools along with all-day kindergarten all as new frontiers for funding education.”

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