Archives for category: Kentucky

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

Kentucky passed a law authorizing charters but never provided funding for them. The new governor of Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshears, was elected in part because of his strong support by teachers and his commitment to public schools.

First charter school application in Kentucky rejected

NEWPORT, Ky. (AP) — The first charter school application filed in Kentucky has been unanimously denied. News outlets report Newport Independent Schools rejected the application Thursday night. The superintendent says the documents submitted by the proposed River Cities Academy lacked planning in multiple areas. A review committee says there was significant plagiarism in the application process. The committee also found a lack of authentic community support for the school. River Cities Academy can appeal the decision to the state board of education. The state approved charter schools in 2017 but a funding source for the schools hasn’t been provided

Newly elected Governor Andy Beshear campaigned on a platform prioritizing public education and promising to oust the state board appointed by DeVos ally Matt Bevin, as well as the state commissioner it appointed, Wayne Lewis, who supported charter schools. (The Legislature passed a charter authorization bill but never funded any charters.) Beshear stated bluntly that he does not support charters or any other form of privatization of public schools.

Beshear replaced the 11 members of the Bevin-appointed State Board on day one, although their terms had not expired. Today that board removed Wayne Lewis and opened a national search for a new state commissioner. 

The Bevin board is suing to protest its ouster since it was not dismissed for cause.

Newly elected Democratic Governor Andy Beshear kept a campaign promise and threw out the Bevin-appointed state school board. The Bevin board still has unexpired terms and they plan to sue to hold on to their seats. Their state commissioner Wayne Lewis–no friend to public schools or teachers–made clear he will hang on to his position as long as possible.

Governor Beshear named a new board. The old one is heading for the courts.

Fred Klonsky has the story here. 

Back when conservative Republican Governor Matt Bevin was riding high, back when he was set to promote charter schools across the state, back when Betsy DeVos visited Kentucky to tout charter schools, every school district was required to take training on how to authorize charter schools. The applications, Bevin’s hand-picked state board assumed, would be pouring in and local boards needed training.

As it happened, the legislature never funded any charter schools, and a Democrat was elected Governor who promised to support public schools and throw out the state board and the state commissioner.

Some local school districts sought permission NOT to be trained to authorize charter schools, but the Bevin state board and state commissioner refused their request. Despite the lack of charter funding, despite the election, all districts must be trained to authorize charters! 

This is an example of stubborn and delusional ideology.

Eight Kentucky school districts on Wednesday asked to skip mandatory charter school training for their school board members, but the charter-friendly state board of education unanimously voted to deny the requests.

Officials in one of the districts, Bell County, said in its request, “Any talk of creating a charter school would not get off the ground in this environment,” according to Kentucky Board of Education documents.

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis, an advocate of charter schools, and the Kentucky Department of Education staff, recommended that the school districts should not be excused from the training. Under Kentucky law, local public school boards have to approve or authorize and oversee charter schools and must receive training to do that job.

Lewis told the Herald-Leader that he made the recommendation because under current law, every local school in the state is required to serve as an “authorizer” of charter schools and any one of them can receive an application at any time.

 

Kentucky’s outgoing Republican Governor Matt Bevin made clear that he wanted funding for charter schools, but he lost the recent election to Democrat Andy Beshear. The new governor made clear that one of his top priorities was supporting public schools.

However, the State Board of Education and the State Commissioner were appointed by Bevin, and they seem to be holding on until their terms expire.

The Bevin-appointed State Board met to announce its priorities for the 2020 legislative session, which begins in early January. Its list did not include funding for charter schools, which was one of Bevin’s demands. Bevin was a close ally of Betsy DeVos, who visited the state earlier this year to promote school choice.

Even though the board was appointed by Bevin, the members’ priorities show that they heard the voters’ message.

Kentucky Board of Education members unanimously approved a legislative agenda Wednesday that they may not be able to see through. 

Education officials plan to push for full-day kindergarten, reading interventions for the youngest learners and more flexibility for schools in Kentucky’s 2020 legislative session, according to documents made public Wednesday morning. 

And they’ll ask lawmakers to solidify Gov. Matt Bevin’s reorganization of an education board through executive order — the very power Gov.-elect Andy Beshear said he will use to disband the Board of Education.  

School choice initiatives, including funding for charter schools, are missing from the proposed list. Citing waning appetite for charters, Lewis said he only wanted to include legislation that had “some chance of passing.” 

It’s a shift toward the education priorities of Kentucky’s superintendents and its largest school district after more than a year of disconnect between educators and their leaders….

Beshear, who takes office in less than a week, vowed to replace the education boardon “day one.” The new board, he has suggested, would then oust Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis. 

Beshear ran on an education-fueled platform, and said his board replacements would value public education more than “a for-profit charter school company.”

It is possible a new board will elect to push for different education bills in 2020. 

Lewis’ contract allows the board to fire him without cause but requires a 90-day notice. He told reporters Tuesday night he would stay for those 90 days — which would last most of the legislative session. 

The 2020 legislative session begins on Jan. 7.

KDE’s legislative wish list for 2020 signals a slight shift from 2019’s agenda, which focused on school choice measures and increasing flexibility for districts….

Unlike last year, KDE does not specifically ask for a third grade retention law, a controversial measure that holds back third graders until they read at grade level. 

A retention law filed last session was ultimately gutted before failing to make it to a vote. 

Defeated Republican Governor Matt Bevin was a huge fan of charter schools. The legislature passed a charter law but never funded it. Bevin appointed a new state board of education, and they appointed Wayne Lewis as state commissioner. Lewis loves charters.

A few weeks ago, Bevin was defeated by Democrat Andy Beshear, who ran on a strong pro-public education program. He chose an educator as his Lieutenant Governor. He said he would pick a new state board on day one and a new state commissioner on day two. Beshear made clear that  public education was a major priority for his administration.

Beshear has said he and Lt. Gov.-elect Jacqueline Coleman, an educator, will have no higher priority than Kentucky’s public education system and its teachers. Teacher Allison Slone, founder of a popular Facebook page called Kentucky Teachers in the Know, said she and her colleagues “are ready to move on and up from the negativity, lack of trust, and partisan politics” that they experienced under Bevin.

Not so fast, said Wayne Lewis. Beshear can’t replace the board members until their terms expire in 2020 and 2022. And Lewis has no plans to leave until the board changes.

Stay tuned.