State Budget Bill Passed By Kentucky Senate Would Increase Support For Schools

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers speaks to his fellow Senators during their session at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers speaks to his fellow Senators during their session at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Senate delivered bipartisan support Wednesday night for a new two-year state budget that would increase funding for K-12 schools as lawmakers moved closer to accomplishing their biggest responsibility of this year's legislative session.

The budget bill cleared the Senate on a 36-1 vote to advance to the House, which is expected to give final passage to the spending plan on Thursday before lawmakers begin an extended break.

The measure represents the state’s signature policy document, and completing the two-year budget was the biggest task for the GOP supermajority legislature when this year's session started in early January. The final version was the product of negotiating sessions by legislative leaders in recent days.

Republican senators focused on spending for public K-12 schools across the Bluegrass State as they promoted the budget measure during the debate Wednesday night.

“This is a solid budget,” Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said. "It is the best budget that has been proposed or passed by the General Assembly.”

Support for the state's main funding formula for public K-12 schools — known as SEEK — would increase by more than 9% during the next two-year budget cycle, Stivers said.

In a major policy decision, the budget bill would leave decisions on teacher pay raises up to local school boards. Republican leaders said they hoped the influx of additional state funding would enable school districts to award raises to teachers.

The decision to leave those salary decisions up to local schools boards reflected an ongoing philosophical difference between Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. The governor, who won reelection last year, proposed an 11% pay raise for teachers and all other public school employees.

Beshear has said that an 11% raise would lift Kentucky to the middle of the pack nationally in average teacher starting pay and average teacher pay. The state now ranks near the bottom in both categories.

The spending plan crafted by lawmakers also would boost state funding for school districts' transportation costs. The state would fund 90% of those costs in the first year of the next budget cycle and would fully funds those expenses in the second year.

The budget bill also would steer more state funding to less-wealthy school districts to balance out funding disparities with wealthier districts.

The emphasis on education funding signals that teachers are appreciated and that Kentucky is a good place to work as an educator, said Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Givens.

“Any rhetoric that makes you feel like you’re not appreciated, please disregard that," Givens said. "We value what you do, day in and day out, and this budget reflects that.”

Another Beshear priority that made no headway was his proposal to provide preschool for every 4-year-old in Kentucky. Republican lawmakers included no money in the budget for his proposal. The governor’s budget plan included $172 million each year of the two-year budget for his universal pre-K plan. The program would extend preschool education to an estimated 34,000 additional 4-year-olds, he said.

The Senate vote came during a flurry of action Wednesday as lawmakers neared the start of their break, which will give the governor time to review bills and decide whether to sign or veto them. Lawmakers start their break after Thursday’s session and will return for a two-day wrap-up session in mid-April.