Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear is using state funds to guarantee that every 4-year-old in the state can attend preschool. The Democratic governor on Monday proposed using $172 million over the next two years to fully fund the bill to get all eligible children to attend preschool, a cost he said was the state’s large budget surplus. Because of “more than affordable”.
“No longer will thousands of our children drop out of preschool or Head Start, programs that, as we know, deliver positive outcomes on children’s early literacy and math skills and promote long-term educational success,” Beshear said.
Beshear’s two-year budget proposal calls for a large sum of about $2 billion in additional funding for preschool through 12th grades. He proposed a minimum 5 per cent wage increase for all school workers and a funding increase of about 12 per cent for the state’s higher education system, the highest in decades.
“At this time we must make game-changing investments that turn two years of economic gains into 20 years of great prosperity for our people,” the governor said. “That’s how we get ahead of other states. That’s how we make sure we never end up in 40th or 45th place in anything.”
Beshear will outline his overall state spending Thursday evening in a speech to lawmakers and a statewide television audience.
Meanwhile, emergency funding for tornado-hit parts of Kentucky began to move forward with bipartisan support. The bill, which proposes $200 million in aid, was approved by a House committee on Monday.
There are plans to pump an initial $45 million into affected communities, with $15 million for temporary housing and $30 million for schools. House Speaker David Osborne said more aid would be released later to help meet other recovery needs.
“We know that additional funding will be needed from local governments,” Osborne said. “We know there’s going to be a shortage of insurance. We know that some school building funds will be needed. We just don’t know what they are.”
The measure, requested by the governor, is a response to storms that devastated several communities in Kentucky last month, which killed 77 people.
For the state’s next two years’ budget, Beshear plans to reveal more details of his proposals ahead of his budget speech. His requests for new spending remain well within the state’s means, he said, amid record-high revenue surpluses and unprecedented highs for statewide business investment and job creation in 2021.
Some GOP legislator leaders prefer more restrained spending, warning that the economy has benefited from massive amounts of federal aid amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beshear’s administration was blindsided by the release of a House budget bill last Friday as Republicans opted not to wait for the governor’s budget proposals. Lawmakers have traditionally used the governor’s spending blueprint as a starting point for writing budget bills.
The governor rebuked House Republicans for bypassing his office in filing a bill that would cover most state services, including education, health care and public safety.
“The drafting and filing of the executive branch budget without the knowledge or input of the executive branch is unprecedented,” Beshear said at a news conference. “It’s unreasonable. It’s unprofessional, unwise, and maybe even illegal.”
House Appropriations and Revenue Speaker Jason Petrie said last week that the bill reflects months of work by a legislative budget panel with stakeholder input. He added that the measure “provides a solid, responsible approach in line with the needs and obligations of our state and our philosophy that we must carefully consider each allocation we make.”
Beshear said his plan provides a substantial amount of money for education.
His plan includes a 12.5 percent increase in per-student funding under the state’s main K-12 funding formula, SEEK. He said it would be an additional $397 million over the next two years.
The governor’s two-year budget would increase the amount to $4,300 in the first year and $4,500 in the second year. Under the House GOP plan, this amount would increase to $4,100 in the first year and $4,200 in the second year. The current amount is $4,000.
Beshear’s plan would completely cover the cost of school districts for student transportation, freeing up local money for districts to use on other initiatives. The House GOP said its plan would increase the state’s share to a minimum of 70 percent, with the state fully covering transportation costs for some districts.
Both versions will provide state funding to cover the full cost of kindergarten throughout the day.
Beshear also proposed funding for the renovation of several career and technical education centers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.