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Beshear to propose ‘historic investments’ for education

December 8, 2021 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The time is right for Kentucky to make “historic investments” in education and build on the state’s economic momentum, taking advantage of revenue surpluses, Gov. Andy Beshear said.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, the Democratic governor previewed some of the budget proposals he will present to the Republican-dominated legislature early next year.

“You are going to see in our next budget historic investments in education,” Beshear said during the interview conducted over Zoom.

“With one of the healthiest budgets we have ever seen, it’s time to invest,” he added.

Beshear signaled that his education proposals to the legislature will include a pay raise for educators along with “retention programs” to hold down teacher turnover in classrooms.

Beshear made support for public schools the hallmark of his successful 2019 campaign for governor. Now that he has reached the midpoint of his term, next year’s budget work will provide another chance for him to deliver on more of his education policy goals before 2023, when he will seek a second term in Republican-trending Kentucky.

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On the overarching issue of his time in office, Beshear stoutly defended his performance in leading Kentucky’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the state’s virus testing and vaccination efforts, “there’s going to be more people alive ... than there otherwise would have been,” he said.

“I hope people will see that,” the governor said. “But I made every decision I did because it was the right thing to do, and I’m going to continue to do that. When it’s a matter of life and death — and that’s what this pandemic is — your personal popularity has to take a back seat to the health and safety of your people.”

Kentucky’s death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 11,000, and the Bluegrass State is being hit by another escalation in virus cases, hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units.

Throughout much of the pandemic, the governor acted unilaterally in setting statewide virus policies, saying his restrictions saved lives. Republicans branded his actions as overly broad and stringent and GOP lawmakers passed measures limiting the governor’s emergency powers to impose virus restrictions.

His term has been marked by policy clashes with Republican lawmakers, who wielded their supermajority status to push their priorities into law. The governor on Monday said the state’s policymakers should find common ground to capitalize on the state’s opportunities.

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“I’m willing to work with anybody who wants to move this state forward,” he said. “Our job in government, once elected, shouldn’t be trying to move this state to the right or to the left, but just to move it forward. We are sitting at a once-in-a-generation opportunity to push Kentucky forward economically in education, in health care, in ways that we’d always dreamed of. We cannot fumble this opportunity through partisan rancor.”

Education, as usual, will receive considerable attention during the budget work. Kentucky’s massive revenue surplus will likely fuel even more requests from interest groups for state funds. Beshear said Kentucky also has another $1.1 billion to allocate from the federal pandemic aid package known as the American Rescue Plan.

The governor said Monday he will propose “a record amount of new funds going into education.” Each level of education — from K-12 schools to post-secondary education — will be targeted for “significant” investments under his spending plan, he said.

“This is the way that we break cycles of poverty,” Beshear said. “This is the way that we attract even bigger and better jobs. This is the way that we change everything here in Kentucky.”

Boosting education is essential for Kentucky to reach its economic potential, he said. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Beshear’s administration says Kentucky has registered its best year for economic development growth, exceeding $10 billion in private-sector investments — led by the decision by Ford Motor Co. and its battery partner to build twin battery plants in Glendale, Kentucky.

Foreshadowing a potential reelection message, the governor said the state’s economic gains mean younger Kentuckians are “going to have so many more opportunities moving forward.”

The governor listed efforts to promote economic development and agriculture technology as other priorities in his upcoming budget plan. Other spending proposals will include supporting human services and the state’s workforce, he said.

“Let’s make sure that no seniors go hungry,” he said. “Let’s make sure that we are taking care of our children in their public safety. You’ll see investments in our state workers.”