Beshear wants pay raise for all educators

Published 10:55 am Friday, August 18, 2023


Kentucky Lantern

Gov. Andy Beshear wants the legislature to fund an 11% pay raise for all Kentucky school personnel, which is the highest increase he’s backed since becoming governor.

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The Democratic governor, who is seeking reelection, unveiled some of his education priorities as part of his “Education First” plan for the 2024-26 state budget Wednesday morning. He said such a pay raise was needed because of National Education Association reports that ranked Kentucky 44th in the country in starting teacher salary, with an average of $38,010.

Under his proposal their pay would rise to $42,191, pushing the state’s ranking to 24. Overall teacher pay would see the state’s ranking jump from 40th to 25th, according to the NEA data. Beshear has previously asked for a 5% raise for all school employees.

Beshear estimated the salary proposal, which also includes bus drivers, janitorial staff and cafeteria workers, would require a $1.1 billion investment.

“When all you do is raise the starting salary it creates compression and you lose teachers that may have three, four, five, six or seven years of experience when they’re paid almost the exact same thing as someone who is brand new,” the governor said.

Beshear’s opponent, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s education plan, released Tuesday, called for raising new teachers’ starting base rate to  $41,500, but did not include raises for current teachers. He also wanted funding for a tutoring program for students outside of school hours to improve student performance, which suffered because of  virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Joined by Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman in his press conference Wednesday, Beshear also renewed a call for funding universal pre-K. Such a program would improve reading scores by making sure every child is ready for kindergarten and is an opportunity to screen children for learning challenges, he said.

Beshear also called on the legislature to fully fund student transportation. Bus driver shortages have created problems for school districts, and made headlines last week when Jefferson County Public Schools were forced to close following the first day of school because of the lack of drivers.

“The General Assembly’s refused to give districts what it costs to bus our students, and they’ve refused to give a big enough salary increase to attract more bus drivers,” Beshear said. “So, if you don’t fund what it costs to bus our students, and you don’t have competitive salaries to have enough bus drivers, yes, you are going to have problems.”

Some other education proposals Beshear made are to:

• Fully fund teachers’ pensions and medical benefits and make no increases to health insurance premium increases for school employees.

• Support a student loan forgiveness program for teachers that gives a maximum of a $3,000 annual award for each year of employment as a Kentucky public school teacher.

• Provide funding for professional development

• Allocate funds to replace textbooks and other instructional materials

• Assemble staff at regional Social Emotional Learning institutes

Kentucky Board of Education Chair Lu Young said at the press conference that Beshear’s plan is “boldly addressing the compensation for teachers and school employees, along with shoring up pensions, providing high quality, professional development, affordable health insurance, and childcare.” Young was appointed to the board by Beshear in 2019.

“Investing in Kentucky public schools is an investment in the future of the Commonwealth, in our workforce, but most importantly to me, it’s an investment in the future of our children and youth,” Young said.

Following Beshear’s press conference, House Education Committee Chairman James Tipton issued a statement through the Republican Party of Kentucky that said Beshear was trying to “catch-up” to Cameron and gave support to the attorney general’s plans instead.

“For years, Andy Beshear has made empty promises to teachers, parents, and students. He inflicted historic learning loss on a generation,” Tipton said. “And now he suddenly cares about education? He nor any member of his office has reached out to me to discuss any plan. Daniel Cameron has.”

When state lawmakers return to Frankfort in January, they will begin a 60-day session to pass the state’s next budget.