Politics

Forty current or retired educators are running to become state lawmakers this year as leaders of the legislature and Gov. Matt Bevin consider cuts to public education and an overhaul of the state’s pension systems.

A group of about 20 of the candidates rallied in the state Capitol Wednesday, saying last year’s passage of a charter schools bill, years of budget cuts and the pension crisis had driven them to run.

Josie Raymond is a former middle school teacher and academic coach at University of Louisville. She’s running for House District 31, which is currently occupied by outgoing Democratic Rep. Steve Riggs.

“We need to get K-12 education and higher education funding back to pre-recession levels and that’s possible,” Raymond said. “There’s a lot of ways to find money in the state of Kentucky — and voters are ready to.”

A historic pension crisis and underwhelming returns from tax revenue have created a series of budget crunches in Kentucky, where the state hasn’t had enough money to pay for budgeted items eight of the last 14 years.

Kentucky has cut public education funding more than almost any other state since the recession — devoting about 15.8 percent less per public school student since 2008.

Under the two-year budget proposed by Bevin, public school funding would be dinged again, this time by reducing funding for Kentucky Department of Education programs and  requiring school districts to pay more for transportation and health insurance.

Kelly Smith is a librarian at Eastern Kentucky University and is running in House District 89, which includes parts of Jackson, Madison and Laurel Counties. She said the state needs to search for new revenue.

“For years instead of finding funding to pay for the things that we need as a society, Frankfort did not meet their obligations to pay for those pension requirements,” Smith said. “The teachers paid, the counties paid, the schools paid and they didn’t.”

Last fall, Bevin proposed overhauling the state’s pension systems in order to save Kentucky money on retirement benefits in the future.

The proposal would move most future and some current public workers into 401(k)-style retirement plans that don’t require the state to pay retirement benefits for life.

The plan was met with widespread backlash from state workers, especially teachers, who also protested parts of the bill that would deduct 3 percent of their paychecks for retiree health and suspend cost of living adjustments for the first 5 years of retirement.

Nearly 300 Kentuckians have filed to run for seats in the legislature this year and 155 of them are Democrats.

Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, including a 62-36 seat advantage in the state House of Representatives.

There are 37 Democrats and 3 Republicans among the group of 40 educators announced on Wednesday.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.