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Gov. Bevin On Higher Ed Funding, Competing With Tennessee

Matt Markgraf

When asked if he would support more funding for higher education in the next budget, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said the state has “a finite amount of money.”

Speaking to local media after a recent Republican event at Murray State University, Bevin said he wished there was more money for higher ed, roads and law enforcement, but billions have been put into pension system. 

“The reality is you have to pay the bills," he said, and suggested funding as many things as possible with the remaining money. "You know this as families. You know this as businesses. We’ve gotta pay our bills. So we’re going to fund the pension because we have a legal and moral obligation to do it. And we’re going to the best of our ability, with the money that’s left, fund everything we can.”

There is little resolution to the pension issue in the current legislative session. A bill allowing regional universities and other quasi-state agencies to leave the system over time and to delay massive contribution increases could still pass before this session’s end.

Bevin said on talk radio this week there’s “not a chance” he’ll call a special session on pensions later this year.

Bevin noted three of his nine children are now in post-secondary education. "You bet this matters to me, personally," he said.

Murray State leaders have pointed to declining state appropriation, increasing pension obligations, competition and performance funding as significantly changing the business model of higher education.

"Outhustling" Tennessee In Higher Education

Bevin pointed to Kentucky Work Ready Scholarshipswhen asked how the state will “outhustle” and compete with Tennessee’s recently announced UT Promise program. UT Promise expands higher-ed enrollment incentives for low-income students to attend the University of Tennessee tuition-free.

Bevin said it's great if states want to let people study anything they want at taxpayer expense. But, he said, studying interpretive dance or interdisciplinary studies for which there is not a job waiting in Kentucky is not a prudent use of taxpayer money.

“The taxpayers, if they’re going to subsidize an education, should be doing it in areas where there are jobs. Where we need those jobs to be filled. That’s the whole reason why we use taxpayer money for it in the first place," he said.

Work Ready Scholarships in Kentucky help pay tuition for students seeking degrees or certificates in construction trades, IT, healthcare, advanced manufacturing or logistics.

"In those five areas, there's 60 sub-disciplines and we have over 100,000 open jobs right now in Kentucky," he said. His message to people interested in these disciplines to apply for financial aide and the state will, for two years, pay the last dollar "so it costs you nothing."

Bevin noted an increased investment in dual credit training. "I'm also the only governor in the history of this state that has never swept the lottery funds." He said these funds will continue to go to education.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rocky Adkins proposed last week a plan for free community college, which Tennessee already offers.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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