As student achievement stalls in Kentucky, Bevin and Beshear paint different paths forward


The Battle for the Bluegrass is nigh, and no, we’re not talking about the Cats and the Cards.

Tuesday, November 5th is Election Day, and Kentucky find itself resting firmly in the national spotlight. Proclaimed by some as a litmus test for Trump’s true influence, Kentucky’s 2019 gubernatorial election has already proven unconventional at the least. For education voters, that goes double.

Currently, Kentucky has a deeply unpopular Republican incumbent in Matt Bevin, a governor whose list of gaffes includes blaming a juvenile shooting incident on teacher protests. Bevin has drawn the ire of Kentucky teachers and groups like KEA for his repeated efforts to reform the pension system for state employees, along with his continued support for school choice initiatives like charter schools and scholarship tax credits. In his four years as governor, Bevin has made it clear that he’s aiming for a legacy of reform: focus on school choice, not school funding.

On the other hand, there’s Andy Beshear, Kentucky’s sitting Attorney General and son of former governor Steve Beshear. Beshear’s plans for education in the Commonwealth couldn’t be more different: Beshear says he plans to fire the members of Kentucky’s pro-charter Board of Education, increase funding toward resources like textbooks and curriculum, and give teachers across the state a $2,000 raise. Beshear has adamantly opposed school choice efforts in Kentucky, arguing that charter schools divert funding away from public schools.  He’s also been a friend of teacher associations like KEA, and has even expressed support for the 120United and RedforEd movements that helped galvanize teacher protests during the past two sessions of the General Assembly. Beshear doesn’t want reform for Kentucky’s schools, he wants more money and support for teachers: focus on funding, forget choice.

In short, the two paths ahead for education in Kentucky couldn’t be more different. Right now, that decision comes at a time when renewing our focus on education should be a high priority. 

That’s largely due to our results on the recent 2019 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Often hailed as “The Nation’s Report Card,” the NAEP assessment is a highly regarded measurement of progress across state education systems. Based on Kentucky’s 2019 results, the state has shown no significant improvement in math or reading over the past two years. In fact, in the critical areas of 4th grade reading, 4th grade math, and 8th grade reading, Kentucky students have actually decreased since the last NAEP results were released in 2017. That’s a major concern, and nobody said it better than the Prichard Committee’s Susan Perkins Weston: “Kentucky’s intent is to move forward, strengthening students each year and equipping each class to be increasingly effective as contributors and participants in our communities and our economy. These results do not show that forward movement. 2019 NAEP results signal clearly that we must rebuild our momentum, our collaboration, our innovation, and our investments in Kentucky’s rising generation.”

When Kentuckians head to the polls this Tuesday, they’ll decide which candidate presents the best path forward to achieve those goals. Who will it be?

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