FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX 56/WEHT) — Gov. Andy Beshear outlined his “Education First” budget plan on Wednesday, just one day after Daniel Cameron, his GOP opponent in the upcoming election, provided details of his “Cameron Catch-Up Plan“. Both candidates promised historic investments in education but had differing ideas on the best ways to improve learning in the classroom.
Here’s how Beshear’s Education First budget plan compares to Cameron’s Catch-Up Plan.
What the plans had in common
The average starting salary for teachers in Kentucky was ranked 44th in the nation by the National Education Association. On Tuesday, Cameron promised to increase the base starting rate for new teachers to $41,500 as well as create a discretionary fund for superintendents to pay experienced teachers. Beshear promised to provide an 11% pay raise for teachers and all school personnel, which would raise the average teacher’s starting pay to $42,191.
Beshear and Cameron also both promised to fund education programs in the Commonwealth. Beshear’s plan called for funding universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds to get children ready for kindergarten. The governor said early education is proven to make sure children have long-term academic success, and funding it is the most effective way to get people back to work. On Tuesday, Cameron emphasized his plan to develop an optional 16-week tutoring program for math and reading instruction. Cameron also said his education plan would pay current teachers a stipend to participate in summer and after-school tutoring.
How the plans differed
During his press conference, Cameron emphasized his plan to restore classroom discipline and improve student performance. Daniel Cameron said, if he is elected, the Department of Education will develop practices for addressing behavioral issues in the classroom and provide guidance for districts that remove distractions while preserving opportunities for students to receive instruction.
Cameron also said his plan will ensure districts comply with state laws requiring school resource officers, reintroduce disciplinary suspension practices, and focus on getting chronically absent students back in school.
In addition to his proposed tutoring program, Cameron said he would add a reading interventionist to every school district to assess district data and assist administrators and teachers in implementing reading intervention programs. Cameron cited data from the Kentucky Department of Education which reported that during the 2021-2022 school year, approximately 45% of students scored proficient or above in reading.
Beshear said his plan would fully fund student transportation. However, the governor noted that his last budget proposal sought to fully fund transportation, but the General Assembly failed to do so. The governor also said the state is not paying bus drivers enough.
The governor said he will fully fund teachers’ pensions and medical benefits, and there would be no health insurance premium increases for school employees. In addition, Beshear said a student loan forgiveness program would provide a maximum $3,000 annual award for each year of employment in a Kentucky public school as a teacher.
Beshear said he will provide funding to replace textbooks and other instructional resources and provide funding to assemble a staff at regional Social-Emotional Learning institutes to train educators on how to help students with their mental health.
The governor’s plan would also dedicate $100 million in one-time grant funds to build or improve career and technical education centers.
Beshear and Cameron’s response
Beshear said these are things he’s proposed before, however, the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly has the power to do what it wants with the budget and hasn’t taken up much of Beshear’s education priorities. It’s a relationship that Cameron argued is the reason his proposal will work.
“He has no serious relationships with the General Assembly. He can’t do anything about these problems,” Cameron said.
In response to the challenge of getting the General Assembly to deliver a budget with these proposals included Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman told FOX 56, “We’re going to make sure that this is included in the budget. The work has been done. All they have to do is leave it there.”
Beshear said the salary boost alone would be a $1.1 billion investment in the state’s two-year budget, which his budget director said the state can afford. Cameron expects his proposal to cost about $100 million but said he’s working with lawmakers to raise that as needed.
Beshear won the 2019 governor’s race after gathering support from teachers by naming an educator as his running mate and vowing to make education his top priority. Cameron has also taken steps to apologize for an ex-GOP governor’s feud with educators.
Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press, contributed to this story.