In Kentucky, we are known for setting records – most notably in college sports, horse racing and the bourbon industry. Keeping with that theme, the first half of Governor Beshear’s and my term has been one for the record books.
From the devastating tornadoes and other natural disasters to our ongoing battle with COVID – Kentuckians have faced many trials and tragedies and yet we have proven through it all that we come together to help each other and we do not give up.
At the same time, we have an economy that is on fire. In 2021 alone, we broke every economic development record in our Commonwealth’s history, with $11.2 billion in investment and more than 18,000 new jobs.
The governor and I are focused not on moving Kentucky right or left, but forward. Our education-first budget prioritizes those values and demonstrates that the blueprint for building the economy of tomorrow requires investment in our classrooms today.
Education is the lens through which I continue to view our most daunting challenges and greatest opportunities. As the highest elected mom and teacher in Kentucky, I know our budget priorities must focus on what is truly important – our kids. And, here is a simple, three-step litmus test I use to make sure we are building them a world-class education system.
First, are we operating with a kid-first mentality? And not just some kids, but all kids. A kid’s zip code, race, gender or socioeconomic status should never limit their opportunity. That is exactly why the governor’s budget proposes a record $2 billion increase in pre-K–12 education. We prioritize student mental health and fully fund transportation for the first time in a long time.
But the most game-changing investment of all is universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds. This alone will increase literacy rates, test scores and post-secondary readiness while also helping to reduce incarceration and unemployment rates.
A close second is, are we taking care of the people who take care of our kids? Teaching is a noble calling and, instead of treating it as such, we have exploited educators by expecting them to do more with less every year. I lived these challenges. So, we included a record 5% raise for all school employees. We restore funding for professional learning so our teachers can continue to learn and grow alongside their students. As an incentive to enter the teaching profession and to retain the best, we also included student loan forgiveness.
Last, but not least, are we giving schools the resources to do what we’ve asked them to do? When we ask schools to do more, achieve more and provide more with decimated budgets, diminishing resources and dwindling hope, we must admit that we are willing to settle for an economy that perpetually falls short of its potential. That is why the governor and I included a record 16.9% increase in per pupil spending, which ensures that we are providing the essential resources and services our kids need. And we are investing $6 million for our Family Resource and Youth Service Centers that serve the kids who need us the most.
Our Commonwealth is at a critical crossroads. We can invest in our people or we can wonder, what if? Gov. Beshear’s budget makes record investments that will turn two years of progress into 20 years of prosperity for every Kentuckian; all while maintaining a record budget surplus.
I know we can all agree that now is the time for all leaders in Frankfort to come together and to make bold investments in our children so we can build a world-class education system to support our growing workforce and record-breaking economy.
We have what it takes to build a better future for our kids. They deserve nothing less.
Coleman is Kentucky’s 58th lieutenant governor. She spent 10 years as a teacher, basketball coach, instructional coach and assistant principal prior to being selected as Gov. Andy Beshear’s running mate.