Education News

Two Southern governors, two very different records on public education

By Tim Walker

Voters in Kentucky and Louisiana will soon head to the polls to elect their governor. On the ballot are Matt Bevin of Kentucky and John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, two first-term governors in hotly-contested races for re-election.

The similarities between the two governors end there, however. In fact, the difference between their respective records on public education couldn’t be starker.

Matt Bevin Attacks Educators, Pushes Vouchers

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is one of the nation’s most unpopular governors. It’s likely no coincidence that his record on public education has been roundly denounced across the state.

Bevin has seemingly gone out of his way to undermine public schools, not only through his endorsement of the Betsy DeVos privatization policy handbook but also his habit of disrespecting educators. Perhaps most notoriously, he suggested that teacher protests were at fault for the shooting of a 7-year-old girl. He also claimed that children were sexually assaulted or ingested poison.,

The Kentucky Education Association (KEA) has enthusiastically endorsed his opponent, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear.

Citing Bevin’s attacks on educators, Republican state Sen. Dan Seum in August crossed the aisle to endorse Beshear.

Seum also said Bevin “failed miserably in the pension issue” – a reference to the bill passed by Bevin and his allies in the legislature that drastically cut pension benefits. With that action, 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 was signed into law in April 2018, and immediately triggered  massive teacher protests across the state.

Bevin supports using public money to support private and religious schools. Like other lawmakers in other states, he is pushing what are commonly referred to as “backdoor vouchers,” in this case, scholarship tax credits. A tax credit scholarship typically incentivizes individual taxpayers or corporations to donate money to non-profit organizations that bundle the funds and disburse them as private school vouchers. Donors are able to claim the donations as credits against their state tax liability and often can also claim those same donations as deductions to reduce their federal tax bill.

“Establishing yet another way for a small number of high-income citizens to avoid paying taxes is a step backward that will continue to undermine Kentucky’s ability to provide all citizens better funded public schools, better roads and bridges, and more reliable public services,” KEA President Eddie Campbellt recently wrote. “Scholarship tax credits” benefit the few at the expense of the many.  Haven’t we all had enough of that?”

Kentucky’s gubernatorial election is November 5.

John Bel Edwards Fights for Funding

Since taking office in 2016, Edwards, endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Educators, has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments from boosting teacher and support professional pay to reforming the state’s huge industrial tax exemption program and opposing unfettered expansion of unaccountable for-profit charter schools.

In June, Edwards signed into law the first permanent pay raise for Louisiana educators – whose salaries rank 39th in the nation –  in more than ten years. Teacher salaries increased by $1,000 and support professionals got a boost of $500 – the first step in a three-year plan to exceed the southern regional average for school emplpyee salaries.

Edwards also issued an executive order reforming what has been called one of the the “most notorious corporate property tax abatement program in the United States.” The Louisiana Industrial Tax Exemption Program – known to many simply as ITEP – is the only such program in the country  in which a state body completely controlled all the tax break awards – even though local entities, school systems especially, have to live with the budgetary consequences.

Edward’s executive order placed power back in the hands of local parents and educators, and ultimately restored a valuable funding source for public schools

Edwards also came to the rescue of a critical program that funds tuition assistance to Louisiana students who attend public state colleges. The legislature budget proposal would have cuts its funding, but Edwards pushed through an annual budget that included full funding for the program, plus an additional $39 million block grant for public school districts.

If re-elected in 2019, Edwards says his top priorities will be to invest in early childhood education and get educator pay above that of educators in surrounding states.

“We’ve  put a $20 million down payment on [early childhood education] this year, so there’s $20 million more invested in early childhood this year than last year,” he told a Shreveport news program last week. “But we’re going to expand that even greater so that more of our kids have slots in quality early childhood education and daycare settings, so that more of our kids start school ready to learn.”

Louisiana’s election is October 12. Under the state’s unique “jungle primary” system, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, appear on the same ballot. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then a runoff contest between the two top vote-getters will be held to determine the winner.

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