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Daniel Cameron unveils education plan, hones in on COVID-19 ‘learning loss’

Daniel Cameron announced his education plan Tuesday in an attempt to reverse learning loss in Kentucky.
Sylvia Goodman
/
LPM
Daniel Cameron announced his education plan Tuesday in an attempt to reverse learning loss in Kentucky.

Republican candidate for governor Daniel Cameron announced his plan to improve Kentucky public education Tuesday, attempting to woo teachers who voted for Democratic incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear. Cameron said he hopes to boost math and reading proficiency, increase classroom discipline and put more funding in teachers’ hands.

Cameron’s new education plan centers on ‘learning loss’ and increased truancy, which he blamed on Beshear’s decision to move schools to remote learning early on in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cameron, the state’s attorney general, said his three-point plan would likely cost about $100 million. He said he wants to create a 16-week tutoring program to boost falling reading and math proficiency in the state. He said the program is similar to a controversial summer tutoring program introduced in Tennessee.

Reading and math scores fell across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic between 2019 and 2022. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed an average four point decline in reading levels for both 4th and 8th graders in Kentucky. Math levels fell even more drastically for the same grade levels, six and nine points respectively. The national average on the test showed similar declines.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Cameron blamed the decline and increased truancy on Beshear.

“I think that's born out of the fact that we had a governor that was indifferent to getting our kids to school over nearly two years,” Cameron said.

Cameron said he would prioritize “restoring classroom discipline.” He said he also wants to help districts hire more school resource officers and improve mental health resources. He said teachers have told him that they “don’t have a way to move a student that perhaps is being disruptive out of that environment.”

The state legislature passed, and Beshear signed, a bill earlier this year allowing school districts to use expulsion for more kinds of student violations and allows them to move “chronically disruptive” students to virtual instruction or other alternative settings. Cameron did not elaborate on how he would improve upon this legislation.

Cameron also said he would also enforce the unfunded state mandate, signed by Beshear, that requires schools to hire school resource officers – police officers trained to work in schools. Beshear has also been a supporter of resource officers. In 2020, he also signed a bill that requires all school resource officers carry guns. He also signed legislation this year that allows private schools to have school resource officers.

The final tier of Cameron’s plan was to cut down on “administrative bloat,” he said, and send more resources and funds directly to teachers. As part of that plan, Cameron suggested creating a statewide base starting pay rate for new teachers at $41,500.

Cameron said he designed the plan with buy-in from state legislators, including Republican House Speaker David Osborne. During the news conference, Cameron touted his relationship with Kentucky’s Republican-supermajority legislature as a benefit of his campaign.

“[Beshear] has no relationship with our legislature…Andy Beshear has no viable way to get anything done on your behalf. It's because he has spent the last three and a half years stonewalling and throwing the members of our legislature under the bus,” he said.

Cameron began the news conference by apologizing for “any comments” from members of the Republican Party that have made educators feel “less than valued.” Former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin repeatedly made insulting comments about teachers during his one term in office, at one point calling educators “selfish” and “ignorant” for protesting his proposed changes to pension benefits. Some have attributed Bevin’s loss to Beshear in 2019 to his criticism and attacks on teachers in the state.

When asked if he supports so-called “school choice” programs likecharter schools and private school scholarship tax breaks, Cameron didn’t directly respond.

“I stand in support of expanding opportunities and choices around Kentucky,” Cameron said. “But again, this is about our education system here in the Commonwealth as it relates to public education. So many kids are in the system right now. And so many kids have been failed by Andy Beshear.”

Cameron and his running mate GOP state Sen. Robby Mills supported a plan last year that would provide a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to people who donate money for scholarships to cover nonpublic school tuition. The plan was estimated to cost $25 million and Kentucky’s Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. As attorney general, Cameron argued for the constitutionality of the program and tweeted he was “saddened” after it was overturned.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a former educator, panned Cameron’s plan in a statement after the press conference.

“Daniel Cameron has spent his time in office attacking our teachers and advocating to weaken our public schools with vouchers that would send public tax dollars to private schools. The plan he rolled out doesn’t even offer raises to teachers in the classroom today, and it’s not fooling anybody,” she wrote.

Cameron said he hoped that creating a base salary for all new teachers would lead to increased salaries across the state. Although Beshear has long advocated for across-the-board raises for teachers, the legislature has chosen to leave pay raises up to individual school districts.

Shortly after Cameron announced his plan, Beshear said he would put out his own education plan on Wednesday.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.