by Benjamin Katz
November 3rd, Election Day, will be a big day for students and educators alike in Kentucky. From Preschool to College to pensions, every step of Kentucky’s public education system will come into focus as the race for Kentucky’s next Governor comes to an end. This race, a referendum on Democratic results on one side and Tea Party ideas on the other, will define how Kentucky’s students will prepare to enter the workforce and community at-large.
Under current Governor Steve Beshear, Democrats in Kentucky have reinforced Early Childhood Education programs such as Head Start, First Steps, and the Early Learning Leadership Networks for the past eight years. With the guidance of Gov. Beshear, Kentucky doubled the number of students prepared for college. Kentucky State Attorney General Jack Conway faces off against Republican Candidate Matt Bevin, who has no history of working in public office (notably failing in his one attempt to seek office, losing a primary election to Republican Senator Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell).
Conway promises to encourage even greater growth of the existing programs, including Head Start, pointing to a study that states: for every dollar spent on Early Childhood Education, the state receives seven dollars in return. Bevin, on the Republican side, claims that Early Childhood Education has no redeemable value, despite research that shows citizens who attend early childhood education programs are much more likely to have higher paying jobs and lower crime rates in comparison to students who did not have access to these programs. Candidate Bevin’s aim (stated during a roundtable discussion from May 11, 2015 on KET, which you can view above) to remove funding for Head Start programs would undoubtedly affect students’ lives in the future.
Jonathan Rogers, a middle school science teacher from Bardstown Middle School, attended pre-school when he was just 3 and 4 years old. He has seen the difference it makes for students and believes that “regardless of who your parents are, what their backgrounds are; having that chance to build your educational learning skills before kindergarten is extremely important.”
Another contentious subject in the race for Governor is what to do with retirement funds. While the state’s Teacher Pension fund needs fixing, Bevin believes that closing the Pension fund to new hires and having them invest in 401K’s for retirement would alleviate this problem. Rogers and other educators have a different opinion: “401K is a supplement to a pension fund. I couldn’t imagine having to save enough money out of my salary to get anywhere near the point that I would retire.” This is certainly important because stability in retirement funds help to attract and keep talented educators.
Finally, both candidates believe that new steps in high school and technical schools can better prepare students to assume jobs with Kentucky employers in need of mid/hi skilled positions.
The race for Governor of Kentucky will affect the children in the state now and their ability to work for industries in the state in the future. Rogers believes that for the best results, regardless of the winner, the next Governor should “listen to your teachers. We are the ones that are actually in the class, we are the ones that are in the school, we are the ones that know what will succeed in the future.”