In a political soap opera of a Wednesday that included a testy text message, a Facebook criticism and a YouTube video, Democrats from the Kentucky House of Representatives capped things off by calling on Gov. Matt Bevin to release $4.6 million in K-12 education funding.
Prior to the afternoon news conference, Bevin released a video scolding the Democrats for calling for the release of Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) money.
“In a few hours, later this afternoon, you’re going to see some elected officials come in here and hypocritically make a mockery of the significance of this building,” Bevin said. “They’re going to come in here and hypocritically lie to you about the focus of education and that of this administration for education.”
Since the video was made before the news conference, Bevin warned that the Democrats would talk about the $18 million in higher education funding that the State Supreme Court recently ruled that the Bevin administration wasn’t able to cut.
“That’s money for bureaucrats, that’s not money for students,” Bevin said. “They’re going to talk about it as if that money would go to students. ... It’s still tied up in courts right now as to where that money would go.”
Bevin criticized University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto in the video for getting a 50 percent raise after the budget cuts had been made.
The Democrats did not bring up the higher education money in the news conference.
When asked by a reporter, House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said “I don’t watch his silly videos to tell you the truth, I’ve got better things to do.”
“The money was escrowed, if you recall, and once this becomes final and non-appealable, then the court will, I’m sure, direct that those monies be paid,” Stumbo added. ”Just like they would any other judgment that would be held by the court until it was final and non-appealable.”
Bevin has until mid-October to challenge the ruling.
The news conference spanned from talking about praying for students, to the importance of SEEK funding, to calling on the governor to give $4.6 million to the schools. The SEEK budget is close to $3 billion.
“It may not seem like a lot of money,” Stumbo said, “... but $74,000 to Pike County is a couple of teachers.”
During last year’s legislative session, the budget contained permission for Bevin to allocate up to $10 million in funding to schools should there be a shortfall in SEEK funding. Now that the school year has begun, the Kentucky Department of Education has determined that there is a $4.6 million shortfall.
The governor has said that he has not received a request from KED for the new funding with the current budget. Bevin denied a request in the previous fiscal year.
“If a request is made, we will honor it,” said Amanda Stamper, the spokeswoman for Bevin.
Democrats don’t know if KED had made a request for the funding.
“If the request hasn’t been made, and we’re not sure whether it has been or not... ” Stumbo said. “But what was troubling was we understood that from the administration’s position that the governor believed that he could deny that request. That it was not a mandate, but rather something that he had discretionary authority over.”
Nancy Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, did not respond to a request for comment.
House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said Bevin should release the money regardless.
“Even if they have not made a request, we believe the governor has the full authority to pay for it anyway,” Rand said.
Democrats criticized Bevin’s proposed budget, saying that it contained many cuts to education. In his pre-news conference response video, Bevin called those claims lies and said he has contributed the most money in absolute dollars and dollars per pupil to SEEK funding out of any administration.
Jason Bailey, the executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said that when adjusted for inflation, SEEK funding is down 12 percent from where it was in 2008.
Bevin had declared Monday a state day of prayer over students and Democrats tried to tie in prayer with their demand that Bevin release the money.
“Prayer takes action,” Rand said. “So as we join Governor Bevin in prayer today for our schools, let us also take some action.”