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Kentucky’s education system: Is it time to declare a State of Emergency?

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after appearing in publications statewide.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has declared a “state of emergency” though there’s no hurricane on the horizon or pandemic threatening to break out.

Rather, Cooper, a Democrat, is resorting to political stunts to thwart the GOP legislature’s move toward allowing all families in the state to use some of their tax dollars to enroll children in schools that will best serve them.

Cooper says Republicans, who hold a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers, are spending too few dollars on public schools while offering parents too many choices.

They’re “trying to choke the life out of public education,” Cooper grumbles.

This while North Carolina’s House and Senate are drafting budgets with record amounts of education spending, including double-digit pay increases for starting and existing teachers and millions in additional funding to help schools hire more counselors and psychologists.

Cooper’s cited situation is no more a “state of emergency” for public education than the incessant, but disingenuous, claims by Kentucky’s school-choice opponents and vigorous defenders of the status quo that Bluegrass State lawmakers don’t care about teachers, won’t give them raises and therefore won’t be able to retain good instructors in the classroom.

What these ideologues don’t acknowledge is that the Kentucky General Assembly has approved record amounts of education spending in recent years, including large funding increases for local leaders to spend as needed in their districts, including pay raises for teachers.

Still, I admit an argument can be made that a different “state of emergency” exists in public education.

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows barely 1 in 5 of all Kentucky eighth-grade students – and just 9% of the Bluegrass State’s Black eighth-graders – are proficient enough in math to be on track for future educational or workforce success. An equally low percentage of North Carolina’s Black eighth-graders are proficient on NAEP Math, too.

A “state of emergency” surely exists when Kentucky superintendents interested in protecting their fiefdoms celebrate when they win lawsuits denying choice – like they did last year – but offer nary a peep about these generally dire academic results and no substantive plans to address the failure, outside of more spending or less choice, of course.

Is it not dire when our governor and those tasked with leading Kentucky’s education system completely ignore the continuing under-performance of most of its students while mumbling misleading assertions that somehow our public system is making adequate improvement?

Is this an institutional emperor with no clothes or an intentional effort to deny educational freedom to as many families as possible?

Should freedom-loving Kentuckians not be concerned when they hear this governor and his handpicked education bureaucrats rest their anti-choice stance on a socialistically flavored political ideology which holds that parents should be willing to forego a better education for their own children if it means protecting the “collective good” of public education?

Let’s offer both – realizing that even the greatest public school cannot meet the needs of every student.

Cooper, after all, sends his daughter to a private school. The Beshears have enrolled their children in private schools in the past while opposing the same opportunity for families without means.

Those governors’ responses – and that of their anti-school choice supporters – to such obvious hypocrisy often translates into something like: “we’re not against parents having choices, if they can afford it; we’re just against doing anything to financially help children from families that don’t happen to have the means for a better education.”

Such ideology, of course, is a hallmark of socialistic societies: authoritarians at the top and those with wealth possess the privilege, meanwhile forcing the failures of a collectivist society that denies the sanctity of individual liberty upon “the peasants.”

Kentuckians will likely have an opportunity to reject such failed thinking and lift this “state of emergency” next year as the legislature is poised during its 2024 session, which begins in January, to pass legislation that will put a constitutional amendment on the ballot next November. 

The amendment will remove barriers to ensuring the protection and provision of educational liberty for all families in the commonwealth.

It can’t come too soon.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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