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Full Text Transcript of Gov. Steve Beshear's Speech at the 2011 RA

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, America’s Greatest Education Governor:

I think I see where the Kentucky delegation is.

Thank you.  President Van Roekel, the other officers of NEA, and all of you delegates to NEA, especially the hardworking Kentucky delegates who are here today.

Thank you all so much for this award.  I'm humbled and I'm honored to be named the greatest education governor for 2011.  While one doesn't make decisions as governor with awards in mind, it's gratifying that my efforts to not only to protect but also to improve Kentucky's education system in these dire economic times are being recognized by those who do the hard work to carry out that mission.

Ever since our country entered this historic recession, families across this nation have been sitting down at their desks and their kitchen tables crunching numbers.  As paychecks have decreased, savings have shrunk, they've been forced to make painful decisions about spending.  To distinguish between critical must‑have expenditures and those that can be cut or eliminated.  Budget writers and policymakers in our state governments have been undertaking the same process, protecting some programs, services, and employees and cutting others.  The choices both flow from and reflect the highest priorities of leaders at the highest levels.  Unfortunately, across this country, we've seen some of the consequences.  Teachers laid off by the thousands.  Classroom spending cut by hundreds of millions of dollars.  Investments in schools put off till the future.  But in Kentucky, we've refused to retreat on our future.

That's not to say that we have not been confronted with serious game‑changing financial pressures, because we have.  I took office three and a half years ago, and nine times ‑‑ nine times I've had to rebalance our budget.  Nine times we've made harsh decisions about spending priorities.  We've cut over a billion dollars in spending since I took office to balance our budget.  By the end of the current fiscal year, that figure will be about $1.2 billion.  That's a lot for a small state like Kentucky.  We've shrunk our executive branch to its smallest workforce level in two decades.  We've cut contracts.  We've sold cars, equipment, airplanes and surplus property.  We've slashed spending at some cabinets by over 30%.  But one thing we have not done, and we will not do as long as I'm governor, is cut our support for classroom teaching.

The education of our children and the future of our state are too important to jeopardize.  We have a basic funding formula for our classrooms in Kentucky.  It's called the SEEK formula.  And during every budget rebalancing exercise we've undergone, I have made preserving that SEEK formula my highest priority.  And it's been a battle.  It's been a battle each and every time.  The latest battle was earlier this year when our Medicaid program was short by more than a hundred million dollars.  Republicans in Kentucky's Senate wanted to rebalance the program by imposing draconian cuts on virtually every service in state government, including our schools.  My response, I said, no.  No.  We are not going to balance the budget on the backs of our schoolchildren.

And working with both Democrats and Republicans in Kentucky's House and Democrats in the Senate, we beat back that attempt, and we rebalanced that budget within the Medicaid program itself.

But, folks, I could not have done it alone.  The Kentucky Education Association and other educators and classified employees were also outraged by the Republican Senate's proposal, and they made their views known to legislators with a loud and clear voice.

As you know, speaking out is important, and I welcome your input.  Sometimes our leaders have to be reminded of fundamental principles, like that a strong economy is founded on a strong education system, and that a strong and talented workforce drives economic development.  In this highly sophisticated world, a high‑quality education is even more important than it used to be, and that's why despite this historic recession, despite budget woes, we must continue to move forward in educating our children.  And and in Kentucky, we have, because of the hard work of our education community, our students are making dramatic improvements in fundamental subjects like reading and science when measured against their peers nationwide.  Years ago, we were near the bottom.  Now our elementary and middle school kids are scoring in the top 20.

But we are not satisfied, and I know that tests do not define students, schools, or educators.

So let's continue to talk about things that help all of our kids thrive.  Two years ago, we kicked off an update of Kentucky's heralded Education Reform Act of 1990, an initiative designed to do everything from improving our preschool programs to improving how we recruit, train, and retain teachers.  I also began an early childhood development and education initiative with a goal of ensuring that every child entering kindergarten is prepared mentally and physically to do the work expected of them.

I also realized that an unhealthy child will have a difficult time learning.  And so we've added over 50,000 kids to our K‑chip rolls, to give them a chance to be successful.  We've also been working for over two years now to raise Kentucky's legal dropout age, along with expanding alternative programs for youth who pose the biggest challenges.  This country and our children need more education, not less.

Kentucky was the first state, the first state to adopt the Common Core Academic Standards.  And recently, we were the first state to petition the federal government for the flexibility to use our own accountability model for the No Child Left Behind purposes.

Our teachers need to be free to teach within the unique context of Kentucky system, not adhere to a one‑size‑fits‑all model mandated by the federal government.

Despite these tough times, we made progress in Kentucky, and we've done so because the KEA, other educators and I formed a strong partnership at the beginning of my administration.  And we have worked together to make good things happen.  We've also made progress because of my 42‑year partnership with the first lady of the Commonwealth, a former teacher who has made children's growth and success one of her highest priorities, and she is with me today.  I wish you would give Jane Beshear a round of applause.  Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is no higher calling than being a teacher in our classrooms.  To take a child's mind and nurture it, develop it and strengthen it, all the while fighting the impact of the worst problems that society can create, that is a gift and a talent.  And too often, it's an underappreciated gift and an underappreciated talent.

But I want you to know that in Kentucky, we appreciate and we love you.  Thank you for your dedication to Kentucky and the nation's most valuable asset, our children.  And thanks so much for this award.  Thank you.