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Lawmakers Renew Push For Universal Pre-K In Kentucky

Liz Schlemmer

Kentucky state Representative Josie Raymond (D-Louisville) says she believes she can gain bipartisan support for a renewed effort to expand access to Pre-K in the Commonwealth.

On Saturday, Rep. Raymond led a rally for Pre-K at Brown Park in St. Matthews surrounded by fellow Democratic representatives, Democratic candidate for governor Andy Beshear, several JCPS school board members, youth advocates and parents.

Molly Tevis-Orona spoke about the difference that affordable, subsidized Pre-K made in her life when she was in an abusive relationship and was a stay-at-home mother to her young daughter. To help her go back to work full-time and leave her partner, she needed quality daycare for her daughter. She says, fortunately, she was able to get a subsidized rate for childcare through the state’s child care assistance program.

“Everyone deserves this. No one should sit at home wondering, ‘What am I going to do to make my child’s life better, with no money?'” Tevis-Orona said.

Credit Liz Schlemmer / WFPL
Molly Tevis Orona spoke at the rally for Pre K about how subsidized daycare helped her to leave an abusive relationship.

Other speakers including Beshear and House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, highlighted the educational benefits for children, the financial benefits of state-supported Pre-K for working parents and the potential economic benefits of a better educated workforce in the future.

Expansion of Pre-K has been a hallmark issue for Raymond, who says she hopes to see it come to fruition in Kentucky in a matter of years.

“It is my strong belief that if a woman is pregnant in Kentucky right now — like I am … that our children will be able to go to high quality, full day, publicly funded Pre-K in Kentucky,” Raymond said.

Credit Liz Schlemmer / WFPL
Social worker Lowry Adams says expanding Pre K would help her in her work with Kentucky's Child Protective Services by providing "another set of eyes and ears" to monitor at risk children.

Push For A Bipartisan Effort

Several speakers, including Attorney General Beshear, thanked the audience for their support of the issue, while acknowledging that they were “preaching to the choir.”

Republican lawmakers were notably absent from the small crowd. Raymond says her hope is to lead a bipartisan push for universal Pre-K in the General Assembly next year, partnering with Representative Steve Sheldon (R-Bowling Green) to co-sponsor a bill they intend to file in January.

Raymond filed a similar bill in the previous legislative session that received no Republican sponsors and never went to a vote after it stalled in committee. She says she believes next year will be different.

“A lot has changed since then,” Raymond said. “The Republican chairwoman of the House education committee [Regina Huff] has said publicly that she wants universal Pre-K in Kentucky. I’ve recruited a Republican co-sponsor next year.”

Their plan is to garner support from 11 Republicans in addition to every House Democrat. One deterrent for fiscal conservatives will be the price of the program; the nonpartisan Legislative Research Commission estimated the cost of Raymond’s previous proposal at more than $250 million.

“We’re going to quibble over the price tag quite a bit,” Raymond said, adding that the bill may ultimately be written as a pathway to Pre-K — such as a plan to research options or expand subsidy programs — rather than a fully-funded program for all 4 year-old children.

© 2019 89.3 WFPL News Louisville.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Policy Reporter, a fellowship position supported by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. She has an M.A. from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Media & Journalism and a B.A. in history and anthropology from Indiana University.
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