Home » Op-Ed: Our time to invest in education is here and our children need it now.

Op-Ed: Our time to invest in education is here and our children need it now.

by Andy Beshear, Kentucky Governor

As elected officials, our job is not to move Kentucky right or left – it’s to move Kentucky forward. We can continue to build a better Kentucky by supporting education and our educators.

Lt. Gov. Coleman and I have always run an education-first administration. As parents and as statewide leaders, we know the best thing we can do for all Kentucky children is to ensure they have access to a world-class education.

That is why I am calling for action to better support our school-aged children, educators and school staff by implementing our Education First Plan. Our time to invest in education is here and our children need it now. The World Health Organization says the end of the pandemic is in sight and my plan will help us advance student learning after this deadly pandemic.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, Kentucky school districts had to make tough decisions, implementing remote learning days when it was necessary to prevent further illness and death. Across the nation, disruptions persisted as staff and students became sick and missed school. Throughout these challenges, our educators stood strong and did everything they could to continue delivering quality instruction.

But to ensure we are doing everything possible to help each child reach their full potential, we must address the faculty shortages in our schools. Our teacher shortages are the result of years of cutbacks that have left schools underfunded, the elimination of new teacher pensions and refusals to fund pay raises.

We have nearly 11,000 teacher vacancies across the state right now. It’s simple: You can’t catch a child up in math if you don’t have a math teacher.

Our schools are the backbones of our communities, and our teachers are the foundation of our future. That’s why the first thing my Education First Plan does is provide a 5% across-the-board pay increase to every public school teacher, bus driver, a cafeteria worker and school employee in the state.

According to the National Education Association, Kentucky now ranks 44th in the nation for starting salaries, with new teachers averaging about $37,373 per year. We have dropped two spots since last year. In a competitive job market, we’re going in the wrong direction.

Over the last two years, Kentucky has had the two biggest budget surpluses in our history. When you combined the strong fiscal management of my administration with the greatest year for economic development in our state’s history in 2021 – and more than 14,000 new jobs announced so far this year – we have more than enough to fund this plan. It is time to make a historic investment in our schools, our educators and our students.

Included in our Education First Plan is universal pre-K, the single most effective step we can take to immediately increase our workforce. We know pre-K provides positive outcomes on children’s early literacy and mathematics skills and fosters long-term educational success. To become and stay a top economy in the United States, we must continue to build a world-class education system that starts with pre-K instruction.

We also need to keep teachers in the classroom by helping them with student loan forgiveness. This relief is critical because we want our teachers to complete higher education. My plan calls for a maximum $3,000 award for teachers each year of employment in a public school.

And finally, Team Kentucky has always believed that mental health is just as important as physical health. So, I am proposing to set aside funds to assemble a statewide staff and eight regional social-emotional learning institutes so educators have access to training on how best to help our students. We will be providing two new grant programs for school districts to establish wrap-around services for students impacted by violence, substance abuse, child abuse or parental incarceration, as well as other training and resources that can help.

Kentucky’s future of education is not a red or blue issue – it is about our children. We stand a united front, committed to what must be done now to make up for learning loss, coming together to embrace our bright future. We must invest in our children and educators and move into our rightful place as national leaders. Our children depend on us.

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