Tom Eblen

Bevin loves ‘workforce development.’ So why has he declared war on public education?

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin speaks during a joint session of the General Assembly in his State of the Commonwealth and Budget address at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Tuesday, January 16, 2018.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin speaks during a joint session of the General Assembly in his State of the Commonwealth and Budget address at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Tuesday, January 16, 2018.

What is it with Gov. Matt Bevin’s war on public education?

Sure, he talks a good game. In his Jan. 16 budget address, Bevin made a big deal out of saying he had preserved the basic funding formula for Kentucky’s public schools.

What the Republican governor didn’t say, but was evident when people actually read his budget proposal for the next two years, was that he plans to under-fund and undermine public education in dozens of ways, both large and small.

Bevin wants the General Assembly to cut $198 million from K-12 education, mostly by shifting more transportation and insurance costs to local school districts, as if they can afford it. He wants to cut an additional $72 million from higher education. And he wants to eliminate state funding for 70 programs, at least 44 of which support education.

Bevin tried to justify his cuts by criticizing school districts for having too much money in their reserve funds, even though they are following state guidelines.

He also singled out the state’s two largest districts, Jefferson and Fayette counties, claiming they have too many highly paid employees who don’t work with students. This attack was an apparent attempt to justify requiring all school districts to cut administrative costs by 12 percent in 2018-2019 and another 12 percent in 2019-2020.

Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk called Bevin’s accusations “misleading and untrue.” Jefferson County’s acting superintendent, Marty Pollio, said 63 percent of the highly paid people Bevin referred to in his district work full-time with students.

I’m sure many school districts, colleges and universities could do without some of their highly paid administrators. I’m also sure we could do without some of Bevin’s $100,000-plus political appointees — a quick count by The Courier-Journal found 75 of them.

But is it really a good idea to have the governor micromanaging the administration of every school district in Kentucky, especially when he doesn’t seem to understand how they work?

Bevin’s budget has no money for retired teachers’ health care. That’s a huge problem for those too young for Medicare — and a slap in the face to women and men who spent their careers in demanding jobs that rarely pay much. The state had been expected to budget about $145 million to help cover those costs over the next two years.

This is hardly Bevin’s first attack on educators. Remember when he called teachers selfish if they decided to retire because he wanted to cut their pension benefits? Or when he went ballistic on Facebook Live at the suggestion schools might be closed a day so teachers could come to Frankfort to protest against his pension plan?

But the most curious example of Bevin’s war on education is his plan to eliminate all state funding for 70 programs to save $85 million, a tiny percentage of the state’s overall budget.

Many of those programs get a lot of bang for not many bucks. They include teacher training funds, internships and programs for minority students, children with disabilities and students in poor school districts.

Among the things Bevin zeroed-out: The Lexington Hearing & Speech Center; the University of Kentucky’s acclaimed Robinson Scholars program, which support students from 29 Appalachian counties who are the first in their families to attend college; the University Press of Kentucky, the scholarly publisher for the state’s universities; the Kentucky Mesonet at Western Kentucky University, the state’s official keeper of climate data; and UK’s Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship, whose popular, innovative programs train Kentucky’s future job creators.

The irony here is that Bevin talks constantly about “workforce development” and job creation, and his budget includes plenty of money to train factory workers. But while the governor loves training, he seems to hate education. And he clearly has no respect for educators.

Bevin has disparaged liberal arts degrees, like the one he earned in East Asian studies at Virginia’s Washington & Lee University, and he has encouraged Kentucky universities to cut those programs in favor of engineering and science. Never mind that top executives say liberal arts majors make some of the best business leaders and innovators. Perhaps it is an indication of Bevin’s narrow vision for Kentucky.

Training workers for industry is a good thing. But for Kentucky to truly prosper in the long term, it needs more innovative entrepreneurs, more creative thinkers and more educated citizens. It also needs a governor who understands that.

Tom Eblen: 859-231-1415, @tomeblen