By Amanda Litvinov / Photo: Kentucky educators and allies protest in October 2018.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is not winning any popularity contests. In fact, he is currently the most unpopular governor in America—surprising for a Republican governor in a red-leaning state where both houses of the legislature are controlled by his own party.
Bevin’s treatment of educators and their union stands out as a factor in his disapproval ratings.
He has repeatedly tried to decrease already inadequate education funding and pull the rug out from under educators and other public employees through drastic pension changes. Bevin has also taken opportunities to insult, ridicule, and blame educators for speaking out on behalf of students and their profession.
Bevin faces re-election this fall. He will go up against state Attorney General Andy Beshear, who won the Democratic primary last week. Beshear has stood up to Gov. Bevin time and again, and helped to fend off some of Bevin’s worst attacks on public education.
Here are three examples that show why Kentucky needs a new governor:
1. Matt Bevin wants to expand vouchers and refuses to properly fund public schools.
Bevin supports U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ agenda to use public money to support private and religious schools. He sat alongside DeVos at an April roundtable discussion that included no public school educators and shut out student reporters.
It was, instead, a forum for Betsy DeVos to tout her school privatization proposal, which Bevin said would be a “gift” to states.
However, a bill championed last session by Bevin and DeVos to reduce public education funding by providing tax incentives for private school scholarship donations could not even garner the support of the Republican majorities in either house.
Kentucky could fund its schools and its pension system by changing the tax code, which currently allows more exemptions than what it collects in revenues. In 2017 alone, the state gave away $13 billion in tax credits.
The Kentucky Education Association (KEA) wanted to be part of education budget discussions. But instead, Gov. Bevin called KEA “the problem,” shut them out, and left educators no choice but to publicly protest his proposals.
Bevin has even tried to change building rules at the state capitol in order to limit educator’s access to their legislators, only to be thwarted by AG Beshear.
2. Matt Bevin wants to break Kentucky’s promise to teachers and other public employees.
Bevin and his allies in the legislature passed a bill that drastically cut pension benefits in 2018. Just like that, the state abandoned its promise to educators who entered the profession with the understanding that they could count on a degree of security in retirement. The bill—which was rammed through the legislature in an underhanded fashion via a waste water bill that was changed into a pension cuts bill—was signed into law in April 2018, sparking massive teacher protests across the state.
Kentucky is one of a handful of states that does not pay into Social Security, making the state’s pension system even more critical to its public employees. Those employees actually pay into the pension system the entire time they work in Kentucky.
In December, the state Supreme Court struck down the law, and further attempts to hack pensions during the 2019 legislative session were defeated.
3. Matt Bevin doesn’t respect educators.
Bevin said “breaking the back of the teachers union” would be “one of the best things that ever happened for Kentucky.” That gives a pretty clear picture of what Bevin thinks of educators and their union.
“Once again, the governor’s comments show his disdain and lack of respect for educators in Kentucky,” fourth-grade teacher and KEA President Stephanie Winkler told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “To attack and vow to ‘break the backs’ of teachers and their advocacy organization by a governor who was elected to serve all the people of Kentucky, is imprudent and irresponsible to the needs of the commonwealth’s educators, students and the public school system,” Winkler said.
Bevin characterized rallies that educators and other public employees attended after the governor tried to axe their pensions as “temper tantrums.”
Speaking on a local radio station, Winkler explained: “We are a united labor force exercising our Constitutional right to free speech. That’s not a temper tantrum. We are public servants questioning the elimination of an inviolable contract by their elected representatives.”
Bevin’s disdain for teachers and the union reached a fever pitch this spring when his administration issued subpoenas to school districts to find out which teachers called in sick to rally at the state capitol. Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear jumped in to defend teachers’ Constitutional rights to protest legislation to expand vouchers, which would only damage public schools by drawing off available funds.
The case is ongoing.