Op-Ed

Ky. can’t push STEM jobs while cutting education, raising tuition

Black teacher helping student with robotics
Black teacher helping student with robotics Getty Images

Gov. Matt Bevin has stated that one of the goals of his Kentucky education reform is to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

As a Kentucky-educated computer scientist and team member of a group whose work was inducted into the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, I feel obligated to comment on Bevin’s plan, and why it’s an abject failure.

During and before Bevin’s tenure, Kentucky has made repeated cuts to funding for public education, forcing tuition rates to skyrocket. At the same time Bevin and the Republicans who control the legislature remained diametrically opposed to minimum-wage increases.

As a college student in the 1980s, my tuition was approximately $1,000 a semester, and I earned $5 an hour doing construction work. Thanks to our governor’s constant hikes, tuition rates over $10,000 a semester are common at state universities, while the minimum wage is only $7.25.

You do the math. You can no longer work your way through school.

Coming out of college with impossible debt is the new reality. For teachers, the situation is even worse. They’re required to have advanced degrees. School loans high in the six-digit territory are common, and our good governor’s budget cuts keep salaries so low that loans cannot be paid off in a lifetime.

The fact is that Kentucky teachers paid their shares of pension contributions while their employer (the state) did not meet the matching requirement. Instead, the state diverted the teachers’ shares and distributed the money elsewhere.

Now, victimized by legislators who hid behind closed doors and voted on an unread “wastewater bill,” teachers who aren’t allowed to collect Social Security are abandoned. The dedicated instructors who made my career possible would have been foolish to work under such conditions, and anyone considering taking up a teaching career now would be wise to look elsewhere.

Take note: Bevin and our senators are not doing their jobs “for the good of our children.” Bevin has inexplicably worked overtime to insult and degrade teachers. In a debate, when you’re intellectually unable to respond to your opponents’ points, you resort to insults and name-calling. I learned this in school, in one of the classes Bevin considers non-essential.

How does Bevin decide which courses are “essential?” He’s singled out foreign languages, such as French, for the cutting block. Ironically, the last computer-programming assignment I completed was a multi-lingual translation program that included French, which I studied for four years.

Our governor doesn’t understand that a multi-faceted education isn’t a frivolous joy ride — it’s essential to competing in the global economy in which he dreams of Kentucky being a part.

In that vein, the governor’s assault on art education is as ill advised as ice skating on the Kentucky River in July. There’s a new-fangled invention known as the Internet that is the driving force behind the aforementioned global economy. I, the governor’s ideal STEM student, learned the graphic-design tools essential to web site design in the very art classes he believes are unimportant.

Finally, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. When Bevin ran for office, he promised faith-based organizations he’d bring privately run charter schools to the forefront, supported anti-science organizations such as Ark Encounter (which falsely teaches the earth is only 6,000 years old and evolution is a lie) and began appointing like minded people to education boards.

Without a firm understanding of the physics that show our Earth is 4.5 billion years old, Kentucky students will never get a foot in the door for STEM-related jobs. Students who don’t understand evolution won’t find medical technology jobs. The type of charter schools Bevin has in mind are notoriously weak on science education, yet he and our Senate have done everything possible to undermine our public school system and set the stage for such charter schools.

Last week’s “wastewater bill” vote is possibly the straw that broke the back for Kentucky’s public schools. Teachers, who made my success in a STEM career possible, were unfairly made the scapegoats and are now an endangered species in Kentucky.

Mark Alsip of Lexington writes about science for national publications and on his blog, http://BadScienceDebunked.com.

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