Two Republican state representatives laid out their legislative priorities at the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative on Wednesday, one day after the governor’s election that incumbent GOP Gov. Matt Bevin is contesting.
“I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re probably in murky waters right now,” state Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, told a group of western Kentucky school district superintendents at GRREC.
Riley appeared with state Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Hartford, to brief the group on priorities they will be pushing for during the legislative session that begins in January.
Topping the list was a school safety bill lawmakers passed this year that did not include funding. Senate Bill 1, which was passed in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Marshall County last year, focuses in part on boosting the number of counselors and police officers in schools.
Paying for it has been left unanswered, however.
“We still haven’t found a way to fund that,” Lewis said.
The outcome of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election has also complicated lawmakers’ plans for next year’s session.
On Wednesday, after Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear claimed victory with a 5,000-vote margin in the race, Bevin said he will seek a recanvass of the results.
Bevin cited “thousands of absentee ballots that were illegally counted” and claimed voters were turned away from polling places, but he offered no evidence and took no questions from reporters.
Going forward, Lewis noted that Beshear has promised to remake Kentucky’s Board of Education as one of his earliest acts in office. He speculated that it will be remade with mostly public educators.
“I think that board drives a lot of what happens,” he said.
“Hopefully, if nothing else comes out of this, that will be the first positive thing I think that we can look forward to. I know I see a lot more smiling faces than I ever remember in this group this morning,” he said, chuckling. “I don’t know what that’s all about.”
Among Riley’s other legislative priorities were increased funding for early childhood education and addressing Kentucky’s teacher shortage.
Currently, the state only covers half-day kindergarten for schools, leaving local districts to pick up the tab. Riley said that currently costs the state about $170 million and that it would need an additional $140 million to cover full-day kindergarten.
Across Kentucky, many districts are reporting difficulty in filling open teaching positions with qualified candidates. Riley suggested lawmakers work more closely with educators to promote the profession to aspiring teachers.
“We’ve got to do a better job of promoting education,” he said.
Asked about the expansion of charter schools in Kentucky, Riley said Tuesday’s general election “probably put it more on the back burner than it was before.” Charter schools have been legal in Kentucky since 2017, but lawmakers have failed to codify a funding mechanism that would allow them to open.
“I don’t know where the discussion of charter schools is going to go now,” Riley said.
Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton asked Riley how educators can work more closely with lawmakers to move K-12 education forward.
“These last four years have been a battle,” Clayton said.
Riley suggested keeping an open dialogue and also reflected on the outcome of Tuesday’s general election, suggesting that Bevin’s rhetoric and public feuds with educators caught up with him.