Archives for category: Kentucky

Democrat Andy Beshear vetoed school bills passed by the Republican-dominated legislature of Kentucky. Beshear campaigned as a friend of public schools, and he came through for students, parents, teachers, and communities in Kentucky.

Blogger Fred Klonsky has the story from the Louisville Courier Journal by Olivia Krauth:

Calling them a “direct attack” on Kentucky’s public schools, Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a set of controversial education bills Wednesday. 

Chief among the vetoed bills is House Bill 563, which would allow state funding to follow students who attend a public school outside of their home district and create a form of scholarship tax credits that would siphon millions from Kentucky’s general fund.

“Can we expect more from public education? Absolutely,” Beshear said Wednesday. “But the way to do that is not to defund it.”

The measure is “unconstitutional” on multiple fronts, Beshear said, and he expects it to face a legal challenge should his veto be overriden. 

The legislation landed on his desk after passing through the House on the slimmest of margins — 48-47 — raising questions if the Republican-led House will get the 51 votes needed to override Beshear’s veto when they reconvene Monday for the final two days of the 2021 legislative session.

Beshear, a Democrat who made public education a cornerstone of his administration, also rejected legislation placing new teachers on “hybrid” pension plans.

In an education-focused press conference, Beshear signed a bill allowing Kentucky students a “do-over” year after the pandemic disrupted classes and milestones for thousands of kids. 

VETO OVERRIDE OF SCHOOL CHOICE BILL QUESTIONABLE

A provision to create tax credits to rally donations that would go to private school tuition in Kentucky’s largest areas was the main sticking point in HB 563.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a former educator, said the piece of legislation is “unconstitutional” and “unethical.”

A piece of the bill requiring districts to create open enrollment policies with each other was less controversial, with Beshear acknowledging the struggles some leaders of small, independent school districts face and offering to help find a solution outside of this bill.

“Governor Beshear is wrong to veto House Bill 563,” EdChoice KY President Charles Leis said in a statement. “By doing so, he chose to listen to special interests like the KEA (Kentucky Education Association) over the voice of Kentucky parents who are begging for help.”

Leis, whose group backs school choice measures, asked lawmakers to “put students first” and override Beshear’s veto next week. 

Beshear expects the legislation to be challenged in court if his veto is overriden, but clarified that he is not threatening legal action himself.

He believes the bill could be challenged on the grounds of sending public money to private schools, he said Wednesday.

It also could be challenged due to Kentucky’s larger public school funding system, which has increasingly placed the funding burden on local school districts

Kentucky’s Constitution requires the legislature to run an “efficient system of common schools throughout the state,” which several in public education contend lawmakers are not doing due to underfunding...

Beshear also vetoed legislation that previously sparked “sickouts” and the creation of large teacher activism groups in Kentucky. 

House Bill 258 would place new teachers on a “hybrid” pension plan that combines aspects of defined contribution and defined benefit plans, rather than the defined benefit plan teachers have currently.

Beshear said previously the “hybrid” plan could push away prospective teachers when states face a shortage of educators. 

Educators in Kentucky expressed their opposition to the voucher legislation that was rushed through the Legislature without careful deliberation of its likely negative impact on the state’s public schools. Nor was there any discussion of the research showing the harm that vouchers do to the children that use them or the high attrition rates of voucher schools.

Acting Fayette Superintendent Marlene Helm on Tuesday issued a strong statement before the House and Senate approved a bill in which private school tuition in Fayette and other counties could be paid from newly created education opportunity accounts.

“Quite honestly, I am dismayed that a bill of this magnitude has been brought forward this late in the session without thorough, public discussion with various stakeholders,” Helm said.

In addition to Fayette, Jefferson and Kenton counties, House Bill 563 now adds Boone, Hardin, Daviess, Warren and Campbell counties — all with populations of 90,000 — to those in which private school tuition amounts can be paid out of the scholarship funds.

The Kentucky Senate Appropriations and Revenue committee passed the bill 6-2. Later, the full Senate approved it with a 21-15 vote as did the House 48-47 in a marathon session Tuesday, the last day of the General Assembly before the veto recess. The bill will now be sent to the Governor for signing. Lawmakers will come back on March 29 and 30 to override any gubernatorial vetoes.

“This bill is dangerous. This bill is bad education policy. It’s bad fiscal policy. And its bad public policy. It does nothing to protect our students and their families or to assure that they receive a high quality education,” Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell told the committee Tuesday…

In voicing his opposition, Campbell said private schools will be charging for many of the services that their tuition already covers. The services are already provided by public schools for free under the law, he said.

Campbell said the bill prohibits oversight of the education service provider that will receive the donations to distribute to families. He said providers are not required to have credentials or background checks. He said the bill opens the door for discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and other fronts…

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said he was concerned with the bill on multiple fronts.

“It is being rushed through the legislative process with little effort at gaining input or correction of obvious flaws and predictable negative consequences which the current language contains,” Glass said after the full House vote. “This legislation is of potentially enormous consequence – which begs a more thorough approach to considering both the public school choice and tax credit aspects.”

Jim Flynn, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said his group remains steadfast in their opposition to any privatization of public funds for education “–this bill provides that in the form of tax credits for education opportunity accounts.”

The lobbyist for the ultra-conservative, libertarian EdChoice organization, formerly the Rose and Milton Friedman Foundation, was delighted with passage of the voucher bill. EdChoice lobbies for privatization of public schools and th


Read more here: https://www.kentucky.com/news/local/education/article249964599.html#storylink=cpy



Kentucky Republican legislators passed a voucher bill, which now goes to Democratic Governor Andy Bashear. The Governor will likely veto the bill, but the legislature can override his veto with a simple majority. This is the ultimate vengeance against teachers, who organized in 2018 to fight the Republican plan to change teachers’ pensions.

The rightwing group EdChoice, formerly the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, was thrilled:

Public school supporters normally fight back in-person when pension reform and school choice are up for votes in Frankfort. But this year, Kentucky’s Capitol is closed to the public because of COVID-19, so the halls are empty. However, the bills dealing with those issues are still moving through.

“It’s a really big day,” said Andrew Vandiver with EdChoice Kentucky, a group that supports school choice.

After years of fighting for school choice, EdChoice Kentucky hoped to see it become law Tuesday.

“It’s just about fairness,” said Vandiver. “Trying to make sure that low to middle-income families have the same choice and opportunities that upper-income families have.”

There it is: the big voucher lie. Upper-income families spend $20,000-$30,000 for private-school tuition. Children with vouchers won’t be able to pay for the same schools as those chosen by upper-income families. Vouchers in Kentucky will be no greater, and probably less, than the cost of public school, likely $5,000 or less. Families can take their voucher to a low-quality religious school with uncertified teachers and principal, where they will be taught fake history and Biblical science.

A large body of research shows that vouchers have a negative impact on student achievement.

The Kentucky legislature, controlled by Republicans, passed voucher legislation. The Governor, Democrat Andy Bashear, seems certain to veto it.

Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader wonders why Republicans are both anti-public school and anti-teacher, since most of them graduated from public schools and send their own children there. Why are they so eager to take money away from their community schools to fund what are almost certain to be inferior choices? Is it revenge on teachers for leading protests against pension changes?

She writes:

Back in the 1990s, Kentucky was a shining model of a state that valued education. The Kentucky Education Reform Act revolutionized school funding by creating a central pot of property taxes rather than an uneven patchwork of rich and poor. There was much more: cracking down on corruption and nepotism, raising academic standards, new money for teacher training, important supports for struggling children.

But over the past two decades, the state’s politics have turned crimson and all that potential — and state support for it — is slipping away. Why do Republicans appear to dislike and distrust public schools so much? Is it because their teachers are represented by politically powerful unions that happened to get our Democratic unicorn governor elected? Is it because those unions negotiated pretty good pension promises? Is it because they resisted reopening schools? Is it because the very notion of public education recognizes that government can do good things? 

“I think what you see is a demonization of public education that’s coming from all these right wing groups,” said Nema Brewer, a co-founder of 120 Kentucky United, an education advocacy group that helped defeat Republican plans for teacher pensions and elect Beshear in 2019. “The Republican Party of Kentucky has bought into this demonization of public schools, completely forgetting the majority of them are products of public schools. It’s just amazing to me that this is what’s happened.”

Those Republicans got their political revenge on Tuesday night when they passed House Bill 563, what’s known as a “neo-voucher bill.” It hurts teachers and rural school districts, while creating more segregation and less school funding, a veritable lottery for the GOP.

By now, the research on vouchers is compelling: they don’t raise the academic achievements of students. Voucher schools are typically inferior to public schools because they are free to hire uncertified teachers and principals. They discriminate at will. Why would Republicans think it was a good idea to waste public money on low-quality religious schools or to subsidize the tuition of students already in religious schools?


Read more here: https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/linda-blackford/article249974744.html#storylink=cpy

Kentucky teacher and activist Randy Wieck writes on Fred Klonsky’s blog about the renewal of the Republican legislators’ efforts to raid teachers’ pension funds in Kentucky.

He begins:

At a time when the Republican super majorities in the Kentucky Legislature would seem to have more pressing issues to face – Covid-shuttered schools and businesses, unemployment supplements, eviction waivers, universal Covid testing and tracing – they nonetheless carry on with a new drive-by attempt at teacher pension “reform” which, once again, is a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle (let us be honest and use the proper term – gut) the Kentucky teacher defined benefit pension plan; kill it once and for all.

The idea of properly funding the plan, according to relevant GASB accounting standards, and repairing the damage inflicted over several decades of underfunding – is one legislators choose to duck. Better to chisel Kentucky’s way out of the debt it has run up through using funds that should have gone to the teacher pension (known as the actuarially required contribution), and which were instead used for other purposes. Perhaps they are following the lead of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell who refuses to allow federal aid to states beset with heavy, unforeseen expenses during a worldwide pandemic. 

Rather than supply much-needed and adequate funding to TRS, (some $2 Billion per year for the foreseeable future) legislators instead prefer to “reform” the plan, placing new-hires into the old “beating-a-dead-horse” hybrid pension system.

Why not simply begin to pay back the missing funding and repair the damage inflicted by the legislature, and not by teachers who have dependably paid one of the highest pension contribution rates in the country (13%)? 

Betsy DeVos traveled to Kentucky to sell her used goods (schmattes is the Yiddish term): charter schools and vouchers.

For DeVos, a pandemic is the perfect time to push school privatization. Day in, day out, for 30 years or so, DeVos has been promoting charters and vouchers.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – School choice supporters should “insist” that state and federal policymakers back measures like public charter schools and scholarship tax credits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Monday…

“I know in all of the years that I have advocated for state-level policy empower parents, never before have we had an environment like we have today, and so I believe that now is the time to raise voices more loudly than ever before and to insist on policy changes that need to take place….”

David Patterson, communications director for the Kentucky Education Association, said DeVos should focus on helping public school districts weather the COVID-19 pandemic, which has “spiked to its highest peak ever” in the state.

“Instead, she drops in for a day to push a political agenda that has been proven disastrous in states and school systems all across the country,” Patterson said in a statement. “Betsy DeVos has a habit of visiting Kentucky and discussing education without ever actually meeting with the public educators who teach 88 percent of all K-12 students across the commonwealth.”

Never before has the United States had a Secretary of Education who despises public schools.

When Kentucky had a Republican Governor, Matt Bevin, DeVos showed up to sell privatization. Bevin got a charter law passed, but he couldn’t get funding. Vouchers went nowhere.

Now Kentucky has a Democratic Governor, Andy Beshear, who was elected by teachers and public school parents.

Sorry, Betsy, time is running out. Your merchandise is old. It’s not innovative. Its time stamp is dated and past due. Go back to Michigan.

I recently had a conversation with Julian Vasquez Heilig, the dean of the College of Education at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Heilig discusses his own background, a trajectory that took him from Michigan to Stanford, then to Texas, California, and now Kentucky. He is a scholar and an activist who now seeks to lead a new conversation about education in a Kentucky, bringing the community into close connection with the schools.

I have known Julian since 2012, when he became a founding member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

His blog, “Cloaking Inequity,” is one of the liveliest on the web. He has a passion for equity and inclusion that shines through his scholarship, his blog, and his activism.

Mitch McConnell is a national menace. He wants states to declare bankruptcy and break all their pension contracts. He brags about being “the Grim Reaper,” the man who kills any legislation that might help regular people.

If states are forced to go bankrupt, it will destroy the retirement security of teachers, police, firefighters, and all public sector workers.

He takes care of his fat cat donors and Wall Street and hurts the men and women that protect us and teach our children. They give their lives for us, and we must stop McConnell from hurting them.

He has stacked the federal courts with unqualified judges who are incompetents and bigots.

Amy McGrath is running against him in Kentucky in November.

She needs our help.

Mitch’s donors are giving him millions to keep their tax cuts coming.

Amy needs millions of donors to combat the influence Of the 1%.

Won’t you send her whatever you can afford?

Kentucky elected a Democratic Governor in 2018.

Now Kentucky needs to get rid of Mitch McConnell.

This is not just a Kentucky issue. Defeating McConnell is a national issue.

Please help Amy McGrath.

Mitch McConnell, Senator from Kentucky, says that the federal government should let the states go bankrupt.

This would destroy the pensions and health insurance of every public sector worker, including teachers, police, fire fighters, and others.

Workers in McConnell’s home state, his own constituents, would be grievously harmed. So would public sector workers in every other state that was forced into bankruptcy by the costs of the pandemic.

David Sirota wrote this article. He was a speechwriter for Senator Bernie Sanders. Please consider subscribing to his newsletter. He is a seasoned investigative journalist. Readers of this blog may remember when Sirota embarrassed PBS into returning millions of dollars to billionaire John Arnold, who had used his money to persuade PBS to run a documentary about “The Pension Crisis,” which is Arnold’s bete noir (he believes that public sector workers with their big pensions are bankrupting the country). After Sirota’s expose, PBS returned Arnold’s money.

Sirota writes about McConnell’s evil intentions here:

It’s not every day that a U.S. Senator explicitly enriches his out-of-state Wall Street donors while telling his own constituents to drop dead. Usually that kind of behavior is somewhat obscured by legislative machinations and spin. But if there was going to be any lawmaker who would be unabashedly blatant about it, you had to know it would be Mitch McConnell.

The Senate Republican leader just finished up shoveling trillions of dollars of federal largesse to businesses and billions of dollars of tax cuts to the super-rich. Having allocated all that cash to the interests that bankroll his political career, McConnell is now taking a hardline stance against a modest amount of aid to states because he says he doesn’t want resources used to prevent cuts to government workers’ retirement and health benefits.

“There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations,” McConnell said.

His goal is to use the coronavirus crisis to realize one of the most radical long-term goals of the conservative movement: empowering states to break existing contracts and slash previously pledged pension benefits for teachers, firefighters, cops, first responders and other public-sector employees.

In a half-assed play to avoid looking like he’s deliberately enriching his elite financiers and starving the peasants, McConnell cast himself as a principled opponent of “blue state bailouts” — a seemingly shrewd anti-coastal framing for his own potentially difficult reelection campaign.

In reality, though, McConnell’s opposition to pension aid is even worse than a pathetic Gerald Ford impression. It is him giving the big middle finger to hundreds of thousands of his own constituents whose Republican-leaning state is now facing one of America’s worst pension crises after McConnell’s Wall Street courtiers strip-mined Kentucky’s public retirement system.

Kentucky Fried Pensions

That’s right: for all the talk of pension shortfalls in blue states like Illinois and California, the bright red state of Kentucky has one of the most underfunded pension systems in the country. The gap between promised benefits and current resources has been estimated to be between $40 billion and $60 billion. One of the state’s pension funds is less than 15 percent funded.

Those shortfalls are not the product of Kentucky’s public-sector workers being greedy or lavishly remunerated — Kentucky teachers, for example, are paid 23 percent less than other workers with similar educational credentials, and they do not receive Social Security benefits.

No — the shortfalls are the result of 1) state lawmakers repeatedly refusing to make annual contributions to the system, 2) investment losses from the 2007 financial crisis and now the COVID downturn, and 3) especially risky hedge fund investments that generated big fees for politically connected Wall Street firms, but especially big losses for the state’s portfolio. (Executives from some of those specific firms are among McConnell’s biggest collective donors, and those firms could be enriched by other parts of McConnell’s federal stimulus bill.

The pension emergency in Kentucky has become so dire that teachers staged mass protests last year, resulting in national headlines and a PBS Frontline special, and a court case that ultimately overturned the Republican legislature’s proposed pension cuts, which the GOP literally attached to a sewer bill.

Typically, a state facing this kind of budget catastrophe would be psyched to have its senator in a prime position like Senate Majority Leader, so that it could have some extra special leg up in securing federal assistance to prevent cuts to pensions and other basic public services.

But McConnell isn’t typical — he is as close to a comic-book villain as has ever occupied an office in the highest ranks of America’s legislative branch. And so rather than taking up Democrats’ offer to work on a bipartisan aid package, McConnell is positioning himself to block the very aid that would especially help hundreds of thousands of his own constituents during his state’s dire emergency.

Empowering States To Use Bankruptcy To Crush Workers

Instead, McConnell is proposing to empower states like Kentucky to declare bankruptcy — a financial maneuver that in practice could allow states to reverse their promises and slash retirees’ promised health benefits and subsistence income.

For retired teachers in Kentucky, a state declaration of bankruptcy and subsequent reneging on promised benefits might mean huge cuts to fixed incomes and medical coverage in the middle of the pandemic.

While retirees struggle to make ends meet, Republicans continue to depict government workers as greedy pigs getting rich off taxpayers. That portrayal is designed to create political support for letting states use bankruptcy to fleece workers — a top consevative movement goal for at least a decade.

“A new bankruptcy law would allow states in default or in danger of default to reorganize their finances free from their union contractual obligations,” wrote Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich in a 2011 op-ed that explained the overall scheme and demonized public employees. “In such a reorganization, a state could propose to terminate some, all or none of its government employee union contracts and establish new compensation rates, work rules, etc…The lucrative pay and benefits packages that government employee unions have received from obliging politicians over the years are perhaps the most significant hurdles for many states trying to restore fiscal health.”

This is not the entire article. Open the link to read it all.

McConnell is fleecing the people who elected him.

He will be on the ballot in November.

If you live in Kentucky or if you have friends there, please send them David Sirota’s article.

The people of Kentucky need a Senator who represents them, not Wall Street.

Linda Blackford, columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, describes the long-standing extremist goal of privatizing public schools and shows how Republican legislators are determined to introduce vouchers, which would harm the community public schools that enroll 90% of the state’s students.

Fortunately, voters in Kentucky threw out DeVos disciple Matt Bevin and replaced him with Andy Beshear, a friend of public schools. I hope the legislature has enough Democrats to prevent the Republicans from overriding a veto.

She writes:

At the macro level, this is an attack on public education, which is foundational to our democracy, and by the way, is actually guaranteed in the Kentucky Constitution. There has always been a basic compact that everyone’s taxes support public school for everyone because they educate the children that private schools reject. (Not to mention many private schools in the South were only started to avoid desegregation.) If people really think more students should go to private schools, then they should help private schools raise more funds for scholarships, not try to game their state taxes. In Kentucky, the bill is being pushed heavily by a widespread network of Catholic schools, which could afford many, many more scholarships if they didn’t have to pay out so much money in clergy sex abuse scandals.

Of course, public schools, like private ones, could do a better job with some of their students, but the answer is not to further starve schools for funding, or siphon off a stream of students to private schools with little accountability or oversight. Public education is a public good that should be supported by the public, not diverted and destroyed by our elected public servants. Although he was himself educated privately, FDR in 1936 noted that his administration’s support of public education throughout the Great Depression “has given to this country a population more literate, more cultured, in the best sense of the word, more aware of the complexities of modern civilized life than ever before in our history.”

Public education is still the linchpin to prosperity for most of Kentucky’s population, but many legislators seem determined to starve it. Sending a few hundred kids to private school won’t make this state great. Supporting our public schools, from kindergarten to college, can.

Read more here: https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article239620393.html#storylink=cpy