Politics & Government

Beshear pledges pay bump for KY school teachers. Can he deliver if elected governor?

With a promise to end “the war on public education,” Attorney General Andy Beshear announced a plan Wednesday to increase the salaries of public school teachers if he is elected governor this November.

“For the last four years, teachers have been called names, they have been bullied and they have even been accused of causing crimes by this governor,” Beshear said. “That all stops on November 5th. When the Beshear/Coleman ticket wins, the war on public education will end immediately.”

Standing behind a lectern at the Kentucky Education Association, with KEA members in red shirts standing behind him, Beshear promised that his administration would give public school teachers a $2,000 raise. He also promised that all teachers would have a starting salary of $40,000 by 2022.

The proposal is part of a concerted effort to energize teachers ahead of November’s election. Beshear, a Democrat, has long built his campaign to capitalize on the fledgling teachers movement that sent scores to the Kentucky Capitol to protest against Bevin and the Republican-led legislature in 2018 and 2019.

Teachers who stormed the capitol in 2018, though, failed to dramatically change the legislature that fall. While some Republican lawmakers ran on teacher-friendly platforms, the GOP maintained its super-majorities in the House and Senate.

The Beshear campaign is banking on teachers expressing more opposition against the man who they say has repeatedly insulted them.

“After all of the bullying, this boost will immediately help our economy, especially in rural Kentucky where public education is typically the largest single employer,” Beshear said.

The promise comes with a hefty price tag — Beshear estimated that it would cost $84 million — and would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled legislature. How Beshear would pay for the increase, along with promised funding increases for public schools and the state’s ailing pension systems, remains unclear.

Beshear offered few details and instead took a swipe at Bevin when asked how he would pay for his proposal.

“We’re going to undo the $250,000 raise this governor gave to one of his best friends as the head of IT here in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “We’re never going to have two economic development cabinet secretaries who are friends of the governor being paid $250,000 a piece.”

Beshear was referencing Charles Grindle, the chief information officer for the state, who received a $215,000 raise last year to bump his salary to $375,000 a year. Grindle’s salary increase would cover 0.25 percent of the $84 million cost of the proposal. He also referenced Vivek Sarin and Terry Gill, who both held prominent roles in the Kentucky Economic Development cabinet until Gill stepped down this April.

Bevin’s campaign manager, Davis Paine, criticized the plan, calling it an “unfunded campaign promise from a career politician.”

“Gov. Bevin has made education a top priority of his administration,” Paine said. “He is the first governor to fully fund teachers’ pensions after years of underfunding by Gov. Steve Beshear and past administrations. Under Gov. Bevin’s leadership, SEEK per-pupil spending is at record levels and 100 percent of lottery funds are going toward education.”

Bevin has been critical of Beshear’s promises when the two have appeared at events together, saying Beshear is just telling voters what they want to hear and not won’t be able to deliver.

“Watch me,” Beshear said to that criticism Wednesday.

Beshear’s plan also proposed working with the federal government on a student-loan forgiveness plan for people who become teachers and providing incentives for teachers to obtain continuing education and board certifications.

Jacqueline Coleman, Beshear’s running mate, was an assistant principal and is now pursuing her doctorate at the University of Kentucky. She stressed the importance of funding for public schools, saying people are shying away from the profession because of Bevin.

“None of us go into education to get rich,” Coleman said. “But under this administration, our commitment to the kids and our communities has been taken for granted. At the same time that the average Kentucky teacher pays over $400 out of her own pocket for classroom supplies, we have endured relentless personal attacks from this governor. I have had colleagues who have left the classroom before their time because they are worried about their family’s financial future.”