Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear says he wants to give all Kentucky teachers a $2,000 pay increase.
The state attorney general announced the plan at a press conference Wednesday at the Frankfort headquarters of the Kentucky Education Association, which has endorsed him.
The raise would be immediate and across-the-board for Kentucky teachers, he said, in an effort to increase the number of teachers working in Kentucky.
Beshear said education is “one of the clearest contrasts in this campaign.” He called the plan “Stop the Bullying, Raise the Pay,” referring to what he called Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s “bullying” of teachers, such as Bevin’s saying some protesting teachers had a “thug mentality” or calling them selfish for protesting at the Capitol while school is in session.
While Bevin “attacked our teachers,” Republicans in other states gave teachers a pay boost, Beshear said: $1,500 in Mississippi, $1,000 in Louisiana and $1,200 in Oklahoma.
Beshear said the approximate cost of his plan would be $84 million. It would have to be approved by a Republican-controlled General Assembly.
To afford it, “we’re going to prioritize,” Beshear said. “A budget is a values document, and what you value most, you ensure that you fund, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do in our very first budget.”
Beshear said the state can’t afford not to make this investment in Kentucky education.
He also wants to ensure that by 2022, no starting teacher salary is below $40,000.
In 2019, the annual average salary for Kentucky public school teachers is $53,923, according to the Department of Education’s school district personnel information.
The National Center for Education Statistics has state-by-state data for the 2016-17 school year, when Kentucky’s average was $52,339. Among Kentucky and its seven bordering states, Kentucky had the sixth-highest average salary, with West Virginia at the low end with $45,701 and Ohio and Illinois above Kentucky with $57,000 and $61,602, respectively.
Bevin campaign manager Davis Paine said Beshear’s proposals are “more unfunded campaign promises from a career politician.”
“Gov. Bevin has made education a top priority of his administration,” Paine said in a written statement to The State Journal. “He is the first Governor to fully fund teachers’ pensions after years of underfunding by Gov. Steve Beshear and past administrations. Under Gov. Bevin’s leadership, SEEK per-pupil spending is at record levels, and 100 percent of lottery funds are going toward education. Andy Beshear is just trying to distract from his support of Hillary Clinton and the liberal agenda that will take our state backwards.”
Beshear and teacher Jacqueline Coleman, his running mate for lieutenant governor, made other proposals. They said the state should explore a program to forgive student loans of teachers who stay and teach in Kentucky for a certain number of years, and said they would try to incentivize the continuing-education programs that are required of Kentucky teachers.
Coleman described this announcement as “the beginning of the end of the war on public education in Kentucky.” She and Beshear and Coleman made the announcement with a group of current and former teachers.
Beshear said retired teachers in particular have been “warriors” in fighting for public education, because they still care about current teachers and students and because they can be active “during parts of the day when others are in class.”
Misty Johnson, a ninth-grade English teacher at Ryle High School in Boone County, said she welcomed the news of teacher pay increases if Beshear is elected.
“Obviously, we are struggling with being supported and even respected,” she said.
She said having support for teachers is great, but having “an actual plan to strengthen the profession” is better.
As an active educator, she said she had to take a day off to be at the press conference, but she said her students were “in wonderful hands” with a retired teacher as a substitute.
“This is important,” she said. “Obviously I have given my professional life to teaching, and this is part of it … . This is just as much a part of it as the planning on the weekends, the time in my classroom outside of contracted hours that I spend doing what I do for these kids.”
Bailey Vandiver, a senior at the University of Kentucky, is covering the 2019 gubernatorial race for The State Journal.