This commentary was submitted by Kentucky Education Association president Stephanie Winkler and past presidents Sharron Oxendine, Frances Steenbergen, Judith Gambill, Janet Carrico, David Allen, John Henrickson, Joyce Dotson, June Lee, Wayne Harvey, Jim Sproul and Doris Morton.
As presidents of the Kentucky Education Association, we have had the opportunity to promote the commonwealth's public schools and to advocate for the students and families who depend on them.
We have had the honor of speaking for the teachers and classified employees without whom the current remarkable accomplishments of those students and those schools would not be possible.
We know well how much the future of our schools, our students and our colleagues depend on the philosophy, goals and commitments of the governor we elect on Nov. 3.
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We ask that all Kentuckians who value public education as we do consider the candidates' positions on three critical issues.
For generations far too many Kentucky students entered elementary classrooms without the proper foundation on which to build. Simply put, some students were beginning school already behind.
Early-childhood programs like Head Start were begun to address that lack of preparedness. Jack Conway and Sannie Overly would expand early-childhood initiatives and ensure all Kentucky children enter school ready to learn. Matt Bevin has declared that early childhood education "serves no purpose" and funding should be reconsidered.
Bevin's running mate, Jenean Hampton, has stated Head Start is used to "start the indoctrination sooner," as if to suggest that giving an early start on their education to children who need it most is part of some nefarious conspiracy.
In our respective school districts across Kentucky, each of us observed far too many students who were unable to receive necessary medical attention because their families lacked health insurance.
It was common for these students to come to school when they should have been seeing a physician; they were trying to learn in spite of being sick.
Sadly, this practice put other students — and school employees — at risk and often contributed to the spread of flu and other illnesses, which disrupted the lives of many other students and their families.
Thanks to the recent expansion of Medicaid coverage through Kynect (which has been held up as a national model of excellence in the provision of health care coverage to those least able to afford it), more families than ever before have access to affordable medical care, and do not have to send their children to school sick or, worse, keep them at home untreated.
Conway and Overly will ensure that tens of thousands of Kentucky students do not suddenly lose the ability to see a doctor. Bevin has dismissed this expanded Medicaid coverage (and Kynect) "as a disastrous package of costs" and vowed to "reverse that immediately."
As participants in the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System, we know how important it is for school employees to have a defined benefit retirement program, not one which relies upon the stock market and is subject to its fluctuations and losses.
Conway and Overly understand that as well. Bevin promises, on the one hand, to replace KTRS with a 401(k) plan and, on the other, muses about abandoning KTRS altogether and moving teachers to Social Security — from which they currently are excluded by federal law.
The latter could not be accomplished as easily as Bevin seems to think, and the former would be financially devastating to Kentucky's teachers.
The membership of the Kentucky Education Association has demonstrated for decades the ability to advance the cause of public education in Kentucky. Next month's election presents another such opportunity.
We urge all current and former school employees and all persons concerned about the future of Kentucky's children to join us in voting for Conway and Overly. Our students and our professions deserve no less.