KENTUCKY — Gov. Andy Beshear Thursday announced his Education First Plan aimed at addressing teacher shortages and learning loss for students during the pandemic.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, the plan includes funding a 5% pay rise for school staff, universal preschool, textbooks, technology and education, forgiveness of teacher student loans, and social and mental health services.
There are currently nearly 11,000 public school teacher positions in Kentucky.
“To ensure that we are doing everything we can to help each child reach their full potential and recover from what history has shown us as a result of difficult and deadly times of pandemics or wars, we must engage with our teacher – and staff shortages are bothering our schools,” Beshear said.
The General Assembly may consider the plan during the 2023 regular session.
In the country’s most recent report, most of the schools in the yellow category ended up in the middle. About 5% of the state’s schools fell into the worst ranking, the red category. A little less than 8% of the schools received the highest, blue category.
Republicans are trying to blame Beshear, who is seeking a second term next year. National test results show it’s a chronic problem across the US as the education system tries to recover from the pandemic-induced shortage of virtual learning and staffing.
Kentucky legislators have generally taken their own path in setting education policy. The budget they passed this year funded the all-day kindergarten and poured money into teachers’ pensions. They increased the state’s main funding formula — known as SEEK — for K-12 schools, but the amount was hundreds of millions less than Beshear’s proposal.
The Kentucky Department of Education was not surprised by the findings, calling the pandemic a major disruption to student learning, Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Demetrus Liggins echoed Thursday.
“I think we all recognize that we’re in a very different place today than we were three years ago, and it’s important to acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on many students, including slowing academic progress and the increase in social emotions and mental health needs and delayed behavioral development,” Liggins said.
Here is a breakdown of the plan:
Increase in teacher and staff salaries
Beshear proposed a 5% pay rise for every school employee in Kentucky, which would exceed all recent school district pay rises. Kentucky is ranked 44thth in the US for starting salaries, with new teachers earning about $37,373 per year on average, according to Beshear’s office.
The plan aims to fund Pre-K for all four-year-old and all-day kindergartens.
“To become and remain a top economy in the US, we must continue to build a world-class education system, and that starts with universal preschool education. Pre-K is also the single most effective step we can take to increase our workforce immediately,” said Beshear.
Last year, Frankfurt lawmakers succumbed to a textbook funding proposal by Beshear, which he intends to revive.
Loan Forgiveness Programs
To retain teachers, the governor is proposing a student loan forgiveness program that provides an annual bonus of up to $3,000 for each year of tenure as a public school teacher.
Support social and mental health
The governor wants to provide funding to bring together statewide staff and eight regional social emotional learning institutes to give educators access to training on how to help students with their mental health. He also plans to launch two new school district grant programs to provide comprehensive services and other resources to students affected by violence, substance abuse, child abuse and parental incarceration.
“In March 2021, the legislature overrode Gov. Beshear’s veto, leaving new teachers without the traditional defined-benefit pension plan that guaranteed benefits after so many years of service,” Beshear’s office wrote in the press release. “This measure has severely reduced overall compensation for new teachers by eliminating the most valuable benefit and the only benefit aimed at retention. Now new teachers have a hybrid plan that will likely require them to pay more into retirement. In 2018, then-Attorney General Beshear led efforts to bring down the well-known ‘sewage bill’ – which would have eliminated teachers’ pensions – by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
That’s why Beshear plans to restore pensions, adding: “When you look at the long-term costs, hiring a teacher now and keeping them for 30 years makes a lot more sense than hiring a teacher now and having them quit a year or two and then face a constant turnover cycle.”