GLASGOW – A coalition of more than 90 nonprofit, public and private groups united in their child advocacy efforts laid out its priorities Thursday for the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2020 session.
The Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children will push for 13 legislative and budget priorities once the next year’s lawmaking session begins in January.
Among the group’s top priorities – campaigning for increased investment in Kentucky’s Child Care Assistance Program, banning corporal punishment in schools statewide and reforming a cash bail system that it said keeps impoverished families separated longer than necessary.
The group will likely face an uphill battle, however, as lawmakers craft a tight state budget.
This week, a memo from outgoing Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration revealed that Gov.-elect Andy Beshear could have to account for a massive budget shortfall exceeding $1 billion when submitting his budget plan next year, according to The Associated Press.
“Budgets are about priorities, and we firmly believe that kids should be at the top of the list,” said Patricia Tennen, chief operating officer at Kentucky Youth Advocates, which helped assemble the coalition about a decade ago to unite child advocacy efforts in the state.
Thursday’s event at a local Italian restaurant was held in partnership with Bridge Kentucky, a local nonprofit dedicated to keeping kids out of foster care.
In crafting its legislative agenda, Tennen said the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children prioritized action items that are both “urgent” and “feasible.”
They’re designed to draw bipartisan support, Tennen said, because “kids can’t wait.”
Among other priorities that stand out are efforts to enact a tax on e-cigarettes, prohibit their sale to anyone under age 21 and boost state investment in prevention and cessation programming.
“With our poor health outcomes as a state, it makes a ton of sense,” Tennen said.
The group also wants state funding for the School Safety and Resiliency Act, which was passed this year to promote school safety improvements in response to a deadly school shooting in Marshall County.
The Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children will have Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, as its ally when it comes to banning corporal punishment in all Kentucky school districts.
“Right now in the state of Kentucky, 15 school districts still use corporal punishment,” said Riley, who has led previous efforts to disallow the practice of using physical punishment for school discipline.
Riley noted that most of the school districts where the practice is still in use lie in the far eastern and western halves of the state. The closest county is Monroe County.
Riley has filed bills for at least the last two legislative sessions to ban corporal punishment, but they’ve stalled. As a former educator, Riley doesn’t think educators should have anything to do with that form of discipline.
“Children oftentimes need love when they go to school. They need somebody that’s going to care for them,” Riley said, adding that the punishment is both ineffective and counterproductive in changing bad behavior.