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In Conversation With ... Matt Bevin

In Conversation With ... Matt Bevin

Gubernatorial candidate on Kentucky education issues
Kentucky School Advocate
October 2015

In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. This month’s installment is devoted to Kentucky’s candidates for governor, Democrat Jack Conway and Republican Matt Bevin, and their views on K-12 education issues.

The following interview with Matt Bevin is the version, edited for space, that appeared in the Kentucky School Advocate. To read the unedited Q&A,
click here.
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Q: What would your administration’s priorities be for elementary and secondary education?
A: More than anything, we want to make sure that at every level, kids are ready for the next level. What we are trying to get them ready for is sometimes referred to as the postsecondary world, and we want kids to be able to compete, either through a two-year or four-year supplemental education. Increasingly, the world into which we are sending children will not allow them to thrive without any kind of follow on education. So my vision and my hope for that kind of K-12 period is to ensure that at every turn – and we often measure them at third grade and eighth grade, etc., that they are reading at appropriate levels, performing math at appropriate levels, that they are on track to be able to be college-ready or postsecondary ready at every turn.

And I think everything we do in education, every dollar we spend, every incentive that we offer, every encouragement that we give, every teacher that we hire, every program that we implement, should be focused on exactly that goal.

Q: What are your ideas for shoring up the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, both short-term and long-term?

In the short term, we have to stop the bleeding, start making the contributions that are supposed to be made and we have to stop misallocating monies or moving monies from what we thought and at one time was, in fact, an overfunded plan, so we used that money to shore up the budget on other fronts. We have a legal and moral obligation to meet that. So one of the things we have to do is freeze the existing plans for everybody who is in them. For every new hire, we are going to have to move to a defined contribution plan – not for those in the system now but for anybody who is not yet a teacher but might become a teacher someday. There is no financial ability to do otherwise. I started a firm here in Kentucky that today manages $5 billion in pension assets. I spent most of my life working in this industry. So I am just stating this as a matter of financial reality.

So, back to the first part of the question. How do we shore up the hole in the short term? We don’t need to plug up the whole hole. We just need to stop bleeding it out. There is enough money now to cut checks to retirees as long as we don’t dig deeper.

Q: So you don’t believe a bond issue is the answer?

No, and let me tell you why. Think about this. Who is going to pay that bond off? Our children and grandchildren, under the assumption that they are still going to live in this state and have jobs to do it with? That is a big assumption the way we are going. We were going to stick it to our children and grandchildren for $3.3 billion dollars that would have only patched one third of one hole in one plan. In this case, the teachers’ plan, which is most critical to teachers. Let’s stop the bleeding first. Otherwise, we are pouring water into a bucket with holes in it.

Q: What are your thoughts on the SEEK basic funding formula?

As it stands right now, I am not looking to make any alterations to it. Could we modify the SEEK funding formula so it is more effective? Probably. Is that an immediate priority for me? No, we have to stop the bleeding of the pension system first.

Q: As governor, would you support the continued use of Kentucky Core Academic, Standards, and please explain your reasoning.

We need strong standards and we need strong curriculum to support those standards. Specific to your question, I am not convinced that the current standards we have are the answer. Now, that is not to say that they need to be tossed on their ear. I look at the creation of these programs and this curriculum and actually, it is the standards more than the curriculum, and the issue I have is this: We have turned teachers into test administrators, we have turned our students into test takers, because while these are only suggested standards, and supposedly the curriculum as to how to deliver these standards is up to the individual school board, the schools themselves, that is arguably the way it is supposed to work.

But it is important to understand all the testing is overseen by, administered by, written by and profits are made by one company and that company is Pearson. So I think we need to have a very thoughtful re-evaluation of this. I am not frankly a proponent of these standards as the best we can do. I believe in more local control when it is not driven by the testing as determined by a single for-profit company. I think our teachers would agree.

Q: What is your opinion of the current system of assessing students and schools in this state? If unfavorable, how would you change it?

Again, this is what I talked about when I referred to the testing process and the auditing process. It is too much. We are overtesting our children and to what end? The kids are unhappy. The parents are unhappy. The teachers are unhappy. Why are we doing this? There is nobody that is happy about the process.

Q: You’ve said you favor charter schools for Kentucky. What kind of governing structure do you favor – authorization by the local board of education or a statewide agency?

Let’s start locally, because who knows better the need than those school districts? And let’s start with the schools that are failing. There is a lot of concern about academic competition; competition is good, and for those who are quick to say that this is somehow going to come at the expense of public education – we need strong public education. That is where the vast majority of our students are getting their education and will continue to get their education, and we have to be able to support the teachers and administrators that are a part of it. So we don’t want to turn the whole thing upside down. But we have schools that have been failing for generations now. So let’s start with public charter schools. The students going there are public students, the funding comes in a similar manner, everyone will be better for this.

Q: Career and Technical Education is gaining more attention in the education and business communities. Will providing additional funding for CTE be a focus for your administration?

Yes. Absolutely. It is important that we realize this is a part of our postsecondary allocation of dollars. We spend at the state in taxpayer money about $1 billion a year in postsecondary education. That is a pretty significant amount. I am a big believer that we should have an outcomes-based funding, and what I mean by that is let’s incentivize the very behaviors we say we want. Let’s incentivize the very outcomes that we say we want. If we say we want STEM degrees, we want people to have certain proficiencies, some of these vocational skills, let’s incentivize that outcome, let’s provide funding and within the billion dollars, proportion that based on the delivery of that outcome.

Q: Please explain your position on early childhood education.

It is critical, it is imperative that we have it, but we have to be smart about it if we want the results to be what we want them to be. If it is just going to end up being day care, with no educational benefit, nobody wants that, including the parents. We want children to be ready for first grade, third grade and eighth grade. If they are not reading at the third-grade level on par, they are going to struggle for the rest of their academic lives and work lives. Every study has shown that. So how do we empower, at the local level, the greatest amount of control and ingenuity and how do we unencumber our teachers to allow them the greatest amount of creativity? There are good things. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Let’s look at programs that are working.

Q: What are your thoughts on tribunal system reform to make it easier for teachers with disciplinary issues to be removed?

I am a proponent of finding ways for that to happen. But bottom line is we want people to be fairly treated; we don’t want people to be dismissed for no reason. We also don’t want people, for whom there is great reason to dismiss them, to be precluded from being dismissed. It shouldn’t be so hard to get a teacher out after just a few years as a teacher. So I am a big believer that it should be looked at, it should be reevaluated. We don’t want it to be punitive, but we want it to work.

Q: How would you assess the state’s efforts thus far to close achievement gaps? Where would this fit on your priority list for education?

It is critical. If one end of the boat has a hole in it, the whole boat is going to sink. So we cannot afford to have, as I said earlier, to have a bifurcated result. This is one of the issues I have to our current approach to curriculum. It is not having the desired effect because we are trying to apply one size fits all. What is happening is our urban students and our black students are falling farther behind. They are not keeping up, and this was supposed to remedy that. So we have got to come up with a system whereby people can all benefit from this to similar degrees. We don’t want the gap widening. We have got to come up with a methodology for closing that gap.

Q: What qualities and qualifications would you look for as governor in appointing members to the state board of education?

People who have been educators in the classroom. That isn’t to say you can’t get someone who brings perspective for example in finance, perhaps someone who has been a CPA to help school districts wrestle with budget issues, but as it relates to this particular board, where it deals with the issues like we have been talking about like curriculum and processes and how do we avoid having a widening gap between different socioeconomic aspects of our society, the people wrestling with that better know what they are talking about. I am already looking at people who bring that kind of qualification. Secondary to the classroom experience, administrative experience. People who have been administrators as well.
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