Beshear proposes pay raise for Kentucky teachers

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andy Beshear proposed a $2,000 across-the-board pay raise for Kentucky's public school teachers Wednesday, an incentive that he said is needed to help address a statewide teacher shortage.

Beshear pledged to include the pay raise in the first budget plan he submits to lawmakers in early 2020 if he unseats Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in the November election.

Pushing for better pay and student loan forgiveness for educators who stay in Kentucky to teach, Beshear is looking to capitalize on Bevin's feuds with education groups, who drew the governor's ire when they took part in boisterous demonstrations at the state Capitol the past two years. Those groups objected to Bevin's efforts to overhaul struggling public pension systems and his support for charter schools to give parents more choices in where to send their children. Teachers' groups argue that harms the schools the children leave behind.

"We should show our teachers that we value them, that they are important and that they are critical partners to the commonwealth in moving our state forward," Beshear said at a news conference at the Kentucky Education Association's offices in Frankfort.

Beshear, the state's attorney general, told reporters his teacher pay plan would cost about $84 million. He offered few details about how he'd find the money other than saying he would start by targeting "exorbitant" salaries paid to some high-ranking Bevin administration officials.

Bevin's campaign manager, Davis Paine, characterized Beshear's teacher pay proposal as "more unfunded campaign promises from a career politician."

During Bevin's tenure, he said, teachers' pensions have been fully funded, per-pupil public education funding has risen significantly and 100% of lottery funds are going toward education.

"Gov. Bevin has made education a top priority of his administration," Paine said.

Beshear and his running mate, educator Jacqueline Coleman, portrayed a starkly different situation for teachers. Coleman said teachers dip into their own pockets to help pay for classroom supplies due to inadequate funding. Meanwhile, they've "endured relentless personal attacks" from Bevin, she said. And many teachers work second jobs to pay their bills, Beshear said.

The result is that Kentucky school districts have lost experienced teachers and many college students interested in teaching are choosing other career paths, Coleman said.

"The reality is we're faced with a critical shortage of teachers," Beshear said. "And that impacts our kids and the next generation and the next workforce."

Beshear said his plan calls for creating a new pay system guaranteeing no starting teacher salary is below $40,000 by 2022 in Kentucky. He said he wants to make sure all public school support staff — including bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers — earn a "living wage."

His plan would help recruit and retain educators, turning the teacher shortage into a "teacher pipeline," Beshear said.

He pledged to pursue a student loan forgiveness program for teachers, who would be eligible when fulfilling their commitment to stay in Kentucky to teach.

Beshear also promised to change the discourse between educators and the governor's office.

"For the last four years, teachers have been called names, they have been bullied and they have even been accused of causing crimes by this governor," he said. "That all stops on Nov. 5."

Bevin has sharply criticized teachers who used sick days to rally at Kentucky's Capitol, forcing some school districts to close. Last year, he asserted without evidence that an unnamed child who had been left home alone was sexually assaulted on a day of mass school closings as Kentucky teachers rallied. He apologized but then doubled down earlier this year, connecting a young girl's shooting in Louisville with school closings caused by more teacher protests.

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