Bevin’s War on Public Education

Jan 24, 2018 at 10:21 am
Daniel Cameron

The difficulty of the state’s financial woes cannot disguise the fact that Gov. Matt Bevin is waging a war on public education. He has made it clear through his words, his policies and, now, his budget proposal that he intends to cripple public education in Kentucky.

This is blindly ironic considering that public education is the most enduring, proven return on investment that government can make.

But rather than find other sources of revenue — even the easy stuff, such as legalizing gambling and marijuana, or raising the cigarette tax — Bevin is zealously sticking to the conservative trope of cutting, cutting and cutting more. I once predicted the realities of governing would strike Bevin (whom I expected to be), a pragmatic businessman, and he would govern more centrally than he would campaign.

I was totally wrong.

Of course, I didn’t factor in his political ambitions and desire to prove his conservative stripes to national, conservative donors.

Bevin’s rigid ideology means sacrifices. So where does he start? Public education — No. 1 on his enemies list (well, maybe No. 2 after the media, but he doesn’t control our budget).

Nothing will compare to the damage caused by bringing charter schools to Kentucky. It is a system that, by nature, redirects taxpayer dollars to private companies; results in less money spent in classrooms; leads to waste and fraud; and, ultimately, produces mixed results.

Bevin’s proposed budget marks another year of driving the stake into the heart of education.

Among decreases for all public universities are cuts of more than 5 percent for UofL to nearly 9 percent for UK and Northern Kentucky University.

Bevin crowed about not touching SEEK, the per-pupil funding mechanism. On the other hand, his predecessor, Steve Beshear, raised per-pupil funding five of his eight years in office. For SEEK to remain unchanged, considering inflation alone, amounts to a cut.

Bevin’s proposing to cut about $138 million — over 60 percent — from public school transportation funding. This forces school districts to reallocate funds to ensure children’s safety. Bevin “encouraged” school districts to dip into their reserve funds — funds required to be maintained by law and for emergency situations... not according to the governor’s redistribution agenda. He also zeroed in on what he viewed as excessive administrative costs — again, particularly in Jefferson and Fayette counties.

He accused JCPS employees who are making over $100,000 per year of being paper-pushers “who don’t touch your students, who don’t teach in the classroom.” Unless, of course, Bevin thinks we do not need principals, nurses, therapists and psychologists.

His budget proposes completely defunding 70 state programs — the majority of them education services (43 by my count).

Bevin has a history of making personal attacks on teachers and administrators.

In a Facebook video, he shamed a middle school teacher for her candid (what she thought was private) response to an email sent from his office. She expressed our feelings on this shithole governor beautifully.

He’s harassed a professor from Washington state, using her as a dog whistle to agitate and rally his base. What led to him blocking me on Twitter was calling him out for this repugnant act, beneath the dignity of a governor.

He’s called Jefferson County Public Schools “an unmitigated disaster,” despite never having stepped foot in one.

He has publicly criticized superintendents, including Fayette County’s whose offense was trying to organize a structured protest for teachers so they could voice their concerns about pension reform. Bevin personalized the effort, saying, “[The superintendent] wants you to have to stay home from work. He wants you to have to find day care for your children. He wants your life to be disrupted so that he can help himself politically.”

Actually, with teacher protests and potential walkouts over pension reform looming, the superintendent wanted to be prepared and ensure that kids weren’t left in a classroom without a teacher.

Did common sense matter to Bevin? Of course not. He had his political piñata hung for his supporters to bash. It’s fair to chalk up the proposed budget to Bevin being an ideologically-pure conservative. But his policies, paired with his rhetoric, suggests there is a deeper animus toward public schools and teachers.

Considering Bevin’s political ambitions for higher office, it’s clear that he is waging a war against his biggest political adversaries: Louisville, Lexington and the teachers union.

The students will be the casualties of his campaign.