Op-Ed: Our time to invest in education has come, and our children need it now. – The trace report | Team Cansler

As elected officials, our job isn’t to move Kentucky left or right—it’s to move Kentucky forward. We can continue to build a better Kentucky by supporting education and our educators.

Lt. gov. Coleman and I have always run an educational administration. As parents and as statewide leaders, we know that the best thing we can do for all children in Kentucky is to ensure they have access to a quality education.

That’s why I call for action to better support our school-age children, educators and school staff through the implementation of our Education First Plan. Our time to invest in education has come, and our children need it now. The World Health Organization says the end of the pandemic is in sight and my plan will help us advance student learning after this deadly pandemic.

In 2021 and 2022, Kentucky school districts had to make tough decisions and implement distance learning days when needed to prevent further illness and death. Disruption continued across the country as staff and students fell ill and missed school. Throughout these challenges, our educators stayed strong and did whatever it took to continue delivering quality instruction.

But to ensure we’re doing everything we can to help every child reach their full potential, we need to address the teacher shortages in our schools. Our teacher shortages are the result of years of budget cuts that underfunded schools, the scrapping of new teachers’ pensions, and a refusal to fund pay rises.

We currently have nearly 11,000 teaching positions open across the state. It’s simple: You can’t catch up with a kid in math if you don’t have a math teacher.

Our schools are the backbone of our communities and our teachers are the foundation of our future. That’s why my Education First Plan is the first to offer every public school teacher, bus driver, cafeteria worker, and school employee in the state a flat 5% raise.

According to the National Education Association, Kentucky now ranks 44th nationwide for starting salaries, with new teachers earning an average of about $37,373 per year. Since last year we have lost two places. In a competitive job market, we are going in the wrong direction.

In the past two years, Kentucky has had the two largest budget surpluses in our history. When you combine my administration’s strong financial management with the greatest year for economic development in our state’s history in 2021 — and more than 14,000 new jobs announced so far this year — we have more than enough to deliver on this plan finance. It’s time to make a historic investment in our schools, our educators, and our students.

Included in our Education First plan is universal preschool education, the single most effective step we can take to increase our workforce immediately. We know that Pre-K has positive effects on children’s early reading and math skills and promotes long-term educational success. In order to become and remain a top economy in the United States, we must continue to build a world-class education system that begins with pre-K instruction.

We also need to keep teachers in the classroom by helping them forgive student loans. This facilitation is vital as we want our teachers to complete higher education. My plan provides a maximum of $3,000 in incentives for public school teachers per year of service.

Finally, Team Kentucky has always believed that mental health is just as important as physical health. So I propose funding to assemble a statewide staff and eight regional social-emotional learning institutes so that educators have access to training on how best to help our students. We will provide two new school district grant programs to establish comprehensive services for students affected by violence, substance abuse, child abuse, or parental incarceration, as well as other training and resources that can help.

The future of education in Kentucky isn’t a red or blue issue—it’s about our children. We stand as one, committed to what must be done now to make up for the learning loss, and come together to embrace our bright future. We must invest in our children and educators and take our rightful place as national leaders. Our children depend on us.

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