As the 2024 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, I have been gifted the incredible honor and opportunity to represent teachers across the Commonwealth – their brilliance, their passion, their dedication.
An impossible task.
The best I can hope to do is to do what I have done my entire career: take the charge openly, wholeheartedly, and with my eye set on improving the lives of others. To me, that is what it means to be a Kentuckian. It is to be selfless, enduring, and energetic.
With that in mind, I’d love to talk about two items on the legislative agenda that I feel are priorities in education in the Commonwealth – teacher compensation and early childhood education. Full disclosure, I do not claim to be an expert on either of these issues. While I can’t provide expert testimony, I can provide a perspective rooted in values forged from a life of service to this great Commonwealth.
Not to sound like a politician, but I truly believe the future of Kentucky is bright. My confidence in that comes from my privilege to witness the incredible minds of the next generation of Kentuckians. And what a privilege it is. Their creativity, compassion, and capacity to change this world is only limited by the support they are given along the way, at home and in the classroom.
These young minds ARE the future.
And if you believe, as I do, in a Kentucky that leads instead of follows; in a Kentucky that thrives through adversity, instead of succumbing to it; if you believe in this next generation of Kentuckians, you MUST give them the support to reach their potential.
You MUST support their teachers.
To do that, you have to invest in public education, and that begins with paying teachers a fair, appropriate, and competitive wage.
These are the professionals that have dedicated their lives to YOUR children and grandchildren. Not only to teach them reading and writing, but to help them learn how to face adversity and overcome it; how to question the world around them and how to find their place in it; and to instill in them that no matter where they came from or what home looks like for them, that they are loved and that they matter. This is a role that should be revered for its importance to our democracy and our future. We must recruit and keep the best teachers in the classroom and our current pay structure doesn’t do that.
If you want to ensure Kentucky’s future is bright, pay your teachers.
Next, fully fund early childhood education in Kentucky.
We hear so often in public statements that everyone wants “what is best for kids.” If that is the case, then we need fully funded preschool and full-day kindergarten.
Children who receive early childhood education are given a strong foundation to build upon. These children are provided opportunities to learn social skills through cooperative play, gain access to books and guided support for academic readiness, and the chance to build critical thinking and independent problem-solving skills.
Every parent with the resources to provide this type of head start for their child undoubtedly does so. But not every parent has the resources. And Kentucky’s children should not be at the whim of their parent’s budget.
If you want to ensure Kentucky’s future is bright for ALL Kentuckians, fully fund preschool and all-day kindergarten.
At the end of the day, we all want what is best for Kentucky today and tomorrow. There are certainly disagreements that can be had on how exactly to ensure that outcome.
What is undeniable is that for Kentucky to have the best future possible, young people – all of them – need access to a FULL education, instructed by highly-effective professionals who are equipped to guide them on whatever path they may choose.
To that end, I strongly encourage you to find a way to increase teacher pay and to fully fund early childhood education services. The future of our students, and the future of Kentucky, depend on it.
Kevin Dailey is an eleven-year veteran in education, beginning his career at Gallatin County High School and currently teaching social studies at Ballyshannon Middle School (Boone County). Dailey was named the 2024 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and earned the Milken Educator Award in 2021.