Saying “the war on public education will end with the defeat of Matt Bevin on Nov. 5,” Democratic rival Andy Beshear outlined Wednesday an ambitious program for education in the state but did not say how much the plan would cost or how he would pay for it.
Beshear said he would appoint a new state Board of Education “on day one that cares more about our kids than for-profit charter school companies and I would hope that that board of education has the sense to select a new commissioner on day two” to replace Wayne Lewis.
Beshear, Kentucky’s attorney general, said education will be the “highest priority” in his state budget if he is elected governor. He said he would not sign a budget bill into law unless it puts education first.
The Democratic nominee had no praise for Bevin’s education record, saying the Republican governor proposed to cut education and has made disparaging comments against teachers.
Beshear’s remarks came at a news conference outside Frankfort High School. He arrived on a school bus with his running mate, Jacqueline Coleman, and an entourage of supporters, including Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell, Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim and state AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan.
Beshear said the campaign will pay for use of the Frankfort Independent school bus. “We never ask public education to lose one dime,” he said. Coleman’s husband, Chris O’Bryan, is basketball coach at Frankfort High School.
Bevin campaign manager Davis Paine defended Bevin’s record in education.
He said Bevin “has committed 100 percent of lottery funds to education, a first for the commonwealth, and today Kentucky is spending more per K-12 pupil than ever before.”
Beshear said state spending per student actually is lower if inflation is taken into consideration.
Paine also said former Gov. Steve Beshear, Andy’s father, raided a “teachers’ pension fund to the tune of $8 billion in additional debt,” while Bevin has fully funded the pension system.
In Wednesday’s news conference, Beshear said Bevin last year asked state lawmakers to cut $198 million from public education and some superintendents warned that the proposed cuts would cause public schools across the state to fail.
Beshear pledged to increase funding to schools but did not say by how much or how he would pay for it.
He vowed to cut class size for most academic courses, prioritizing size reduction for special education and some laboratory classes.
A copy of his education plan said the average elementary class size in Kentucky is 23.3 students, higher than all neighboring states.
It noted that research suggests smaller class size increases student success.
Beshear, who attended public schools in Fayette County, said he would address a shortage of teachers by raising their pay and focusing on recruiting more teachers of color.
Other education goals, Beshear said, include improving school infrastructure and supplies, reducing excessive standardized testing, increasing school nurses, expanding early childhood education and prioritizing the expansion of career and technical education opportunities, especially in growing industries like agritech, advanced manufacturing and health care.
Beshear was asked if he supports Bevin’s call for Kentucky school students to bring the Bible to school on Thursday and share it with others.
“I’m a person of strong faith and I believe that everybody should be able to exercise their faith whether kids or adults,” said Beshear. “We have to do it in a respectful way where everybody’s faith is respected and appreciated and everybody has the space and opportunity to practice it as they choose.”