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Kentucky lawmakers pass bill to fund full-day kindergarten

March 31, 2021 GMT
The hands of Kentucky Senate President David Stivers sit on his gavel during the final day of the session for the Kentucky Legislature at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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The hands of Kentucky Senate President David Stivers sit on his gavel during the final day of the session for the Kentucky Legislature at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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The hands of Kentucky Senate President David Stivers sit on his gavel during the final day of the session for the Kentucky Legislature at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, March 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers passed last-minute spending plans Tuesday to pump money into full-day kindergarten and school construction and to pay off unemployment insurance debts as big-ticket budget items won broad support on the final day of this year’s legislative session.

Another spending measure that cleared the Republican-dominated legislature would allocate hundreds of millions in federal pandemic relief money for water and wastewater projects.

It capped a remarkable one-day spending spree that topped $1 billion as lawmakers dipped into federal and state funds for a bevy of projects that included shared priorities between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican lawmakers. The last spending measure won final passage in the final hour before the midnight deadline for the session to end.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, the top-ranking House Democrat, referred to the last-day spending as “breathtaking,” coming after “months and months of hearing about an austere budget.”

“I do think it’s a great time for us to invest in our commonwealth,” she said.

State government in Kentucky is expected to eventually receive about $2.4 billion from the pandemic aid package championed by President Joe Biden and passed by the congressional Democrats, including the state’s lone Democratic congressman, John Yarmuth.

One proposal winning final legislative passage contained $140 million in state funds to support full-day kindergarten. The measure cleared the state Senate on a 36-1 vote soon after it surfaced in a committee. The House later voted 90-3 to send the measure to the governor.

Kentucky’s school districts now get state funding for half-day kindergarten, with districts using local taxpayer money to pay for full-day services.

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That spending plan included Beshear’s proposal to use $575 million in federal pandemic aid to repay a federal loan that kept the state’s unemployment insurance program afloat. The program faced an unprecedented surge in jobless claims last year due to COVID-19.

The bill also added another $50 million in federal money for broadband projects. Lawmakers already had allocated $250 million of federal aid to extend broadband service to underserved areas of Kentucky. Beshear also supported spending on broadband.

The Senate gave final approval Tuesday night to another bill that would allocate $250 million in federal pandemic aid for a water and wastewater grant program in Kentucky. Beshear also advocated using some of the federal money for such infrastructure work.

Another proposal, also tapping into federal money, included $127 million for school construction and renovations and more than $50 million for interior renovations at the state Capitol. The measure won final passage late Tuesday.

Beshear and legislative leaders spent weeks trying to hash out a plan to spend at least part of the federal aid before the session ends.