Charges Fly in Kentucky After ‘Education Summit’

By Reagan Walker — March 08, 1989 3 min read

A three-day “education summit” intended to bring Kentucky’s legislature and governor together on school reform appears instead to have created more dissension.

On Feb. 22, the opening day of the summit, Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson declined to budge from his previously stated reform positions, particularly his reluctance to support tax increases without major, systemwide restructuring.

But on following days, the 85 legislators and 200 education advocates in attendance heard more conciliatory words from Lieut. Gov. Brereton Jones and the state budget director, Kevin Hable.

The Governor quickly dashed hopes that any strands of consensus were forming between the executive and legislative branches, however, when he attacked Mr. Jones and Mr. Hable at a post-summit press conference. He called the former--a declared candidate for governor in the 1991 race--"old ‘Tell-Special-Interests-What-They-Want-To-Hear’ Jones.”

The Governor also questioned at his press conference whether lawmakers had enough votes to approve a tax increase.

The summit, sponsored by the legislature’s interim education committee, had provided Governor Wilkinson with a forum for urging that his reform program be adopted in lieu of proposals advanced by the legislature and education groups.

“I’m willing to find more money, but not until we make a commitment to change the system,” he said during opening-day remarks. “To put it bluntly, if we are not going to change the system, I’d rather spend less to be last than spend more to be last.”

The Governor has proposed a “benchmark” schools and a merit-schools plan. The benchmark schools would serve as laboratories for educational experiments. The merit-schools plan would pay bonuses to staff members in schools that meet certain standards of improvement. The esti4mated cost of his program is about $80 million.

The legislature has proposed spending nearly $600 million during the next two years on a broad array of school improvements, including smaller class sizes, higher teacher salaries, and a version of the Wilkinson plan.

The Lieutenant Governor, who ran for office separately from Mr. Wilkinson and who has said he will seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination two years from now, delivered a well-received speech on the conference’s second day, endorsing a broad range of school reforms, according to meeting participants.

He was followed by Mr. Hable, the budget director, who reportedly attempted to mend fences with the legislators by telling them the Governor had directed him to seek an end to their stalemate. He also said that the executive branch should accept some of the blame for the poor working relationship that has developed.

On the summit’s closing day, legislators and a coalition of education groups emerged with their own consensus on what should be done to improve the schools. The next move, they said, was Mr. Wilkinson’s.

The Governor moved quickly. In a press conference hours after the close of the conference, he lambasted legislative leaders for “not knowing what they wanted,” and threatened to “call their hand” on a tax increase.

And in response to his budget director’s remarks on sharing the blame for poor relations between the two branches of government, he said: ''I’ll let Kevin take all the blame for that he wants. I’m not going to share in it.”

Robert F. Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a nonpartisan advocacy group, said the press conference had been detrimental to the consensus-building process.

“It now looks like the concrete is getting harder and harder around the stalemate between the Governor and the legislature,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 1989 edition of Education Week as Charges Fly in Kentucky After ‘Education Summit’