Kentucky House GOP budget differs with Democratic governor over how to award teacher pay raises

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled spending bills aimed at boosting education funding and tapping into budget reserves to pump more money into public pensions and infrastructure projects.

The two-year budget plan introduced in the House doesn’t offer a guaranteed pay raise for teachers and other public school employees. Nor does it contain state funds to provide access to preschool for every 4-year-old in Kentucky. Both were cornerstones of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s budget plan.

Instead, the House GOP budget proposal calls for a large infusion of additional money for the state’s main funding formula for K-12 schools — known as SEEK — and for student transportation. The House plan will include language suggesting “very strongly to administrators that their school personnel deserve and need pay raises,” Republican House Speaker David Osborne said.

“So we fully expect and anticipate that school administrators would reward their teachers accordingly,” Osborne told reporters.

Under the House plan, it would be up to local school districts to decide whether to use additional state funding to provide pay raises to teachers and other staff. Local administrators would decide the size of the raises as well. GOP lawmakers followed the same course two years ago and most districts followed through with raises, Republicans say.

Beshear proposed an 11% raise for teachers and all other public school employees. His plan also included $172 million each year of the budget to provide preschool for every Kentucky 4-year-old. He says the state’s low rankings in starting and average teacher pay hurt its ability to attract and retain educators.

“When I look at a problem — and our teacher salaries … are a problem — I want to make sure any solution fixes it,” the governor said recently. “So if we truly want to fix it, then we have to do both an amount of money for teacher raises, that we require to go to teacher raises, but we also have to fully fund other parts of education.”

Top Republican lawmakers support helping the state’s struggling childcare sector. The House plan includes additional funding to maintain higher reimbursement for providers.

House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Jason Petrie introduced both bills on the 10th day of this year’s 60-day session. One bill would fund operations across much of state government during the next two years. The other would tap into the state’s vast budget reserves to make targeted, one-time investments in public pensions, infrastructure, public safety and economic development.

Work on the next two-year budget — the state’s signature policy document — will dominate the session. Once the House passes its plan, the Senate will put its imprint on spending policies. Negotiators from each chamber will ultimately hash out any differences. The GOP has supermajorities in both chambers.

The state’s main budget bill — House Bill 6 — also includes strategic investments in public safety, infrastructure and health services, top Republicans said.

“HB6 continues our commitment to investing in our commonwealth’s future while prioritizing responsible spending that aims to efficiently allocate resources while maintaining essential public services,” Petrie said. “This approach has served us well, allowing us to provide Kentuckians with necessary services while helping amass a historic amount in our budget reserve trust and addressing state debt and liabilities.”

The House GOP plan calls for providing another round of pay raises for state police troopers and hiring more social workers, as the governor also proposed.

For higher education, the House GOP bill includes $600 million over the two years for facility maintenance, renovations and repairs on campuses.

The other bill unveiled Tuesday, House Bill 1, would tap a portion of the state’s massive budget reserves to make one-time investments totaling more than $1.7 billion for infrastructure, public safety and economic development and to help pay down unfunded liabilities in public pension systems.

Portions of the money would go for drinking water and wastewater projects and to prepare sites for economic development projects. Both have been priorities for Beshear as well.

“We’ve made saving a priority and now the budget reserve trust fund exists to ensure our state is both prepared to take advantage of opportunities as well as provide for the state during difficult times,” Petrie said.

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