As Republican Daniel Cameron downplayed his support for charter schools and vouchers in presenting his education plans, school choice advocacy groups pumped millions of dollars into ads attacking the his opponent, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
With school choice simmering as an ongoing issue in the Kentucky legislature, Democrats say the ads to outside groups are an acknowledgment that they see Cameron – the state’s GOP gubernatorial nominee – as an ally. The Democratic criticism comes as Cameron tries to reach out to teachers, who were a key part of Beshear’s coalition in winning the governorship four years ago. The most prominent group representing Kentucky public school teachers opposes school choice measures.
School choice has emerged as one of the most volatile issues in a closely watched campaign marked by divergent views between Cameron and Beshear, who is seeking a second term in November. Bills promoting charter schools and private school-related tax credits are among the most controversial Kentucky lawmakers have faced in recent years, splitting Republican supermajorities. Beshear vetoed the school choice measures, but enough GOP lawmakers voted to override his action.
Cameron sidestepped school choice issues last week when unveiling an education plan. The state’s Democratic Party claimed it was a strategic omission, arguing the GOP nominee identified his stance on school choice as “very unpopular” with Kentucky voters.
Cameron’s campaign said the school choice policy was not included because his plan was focused on combating learning failures related to the pandemic that he blamed for school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. supported by Beshear. Asked about charter schools in that announcement, Cameron replied: “I stand in support of expanding opportunities and options around Kentucky” while emphasizing his plan surrounding public education.
While Cameron largely skipped the discussion about school choice, advocacy groups ran ads on Beshear. The ads tried to connect him to Louisville’s school bus system and blasted his decision to allow the early release of some non-violent inmates early in the pandemic.
Beshear campaign spokesman Alex Floyd said the groups aired “misleading ads” on other topics because they “know how unpopular vouchers are in Kentucky.” Beshear said GOP lawmakers have failed to fully fund school transportation and that governors from both parties are releasing low-level, non-violent inmates near the end of their sentences to help to mitigate the spread of COVID in prisons.
Asked about the ads, Mike Biundo, executive director of one of the pro-school choice groups, criticized Beshear’s “record of failure” on COVID-19, crime and education. Biundo told the Lexington Herald-Leader “it’s time for a conservative reformer as governor to pass initiatives like school choice.”
Nationally, groups are pushing for school choice policies at the state level as conservatives try to make their mark on school policies in the wake of COVID lockdowns and amid policy battles over transgender.
In Kentucky, Democrats say the anti-Beshear ads show that pro-school choice groups see Cameron as an important ally to their cause.
“Kentuckians don’t want to see taxpayer dollars taken away from public schools and given to countless private schools. But Cameron can’t hide from his record,” said a Democratic Party spokesperson. Anna Breedlove in a news release.
Cameron expressed support for charter schools and private school vouchers during a March debate among GOP gubernatorial hopefuls. It comes during a lightning tour that allows for little or no explanation.
As the state’s attorney general, Cameron’s office unsuccessfully defended a Republican-backed measure to provide tax credits for donations that support private school tuition. The legislation was struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2022.
Responding to the decision, Cameron said he was “sad that parents across the commonwealth cannot use the need-based funding” provided by the tax credit program to “expand learning opportunities for their children.” son.” Opponents of the tax credits say they could cost the state up to $25 million a year — money they say could go toward public education.
Meanwhile, Cameron is trying to repair the damage done by former GOP Gov. Matt Bevin in his party by fighting education groups over pensions. Bevin narrowly lost the 2019 election to Beshear.
In a recent speech to school administrators, Cameron apologized for the rift, stating: “I also want to say ‘I’m sorry.’ Sorry if I or anyone in my party gave you the impression that we don’t appreciate you or we don’t respect you. I assure you that the Republican Party of this state under my leadership will demonstrate that we do – not just in word but in deed.
The Kentucky Education Association, a group closely aligned with Beshear, was unimpressed with the overture, pointing to Cameron’s school choice. The group, which represents tens of thousands of teachers, said Cameron tried to play “teacher’s guardian” in his promises to teachers.
School choice advocates have pledged to step up an effort next year to put a school choice constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot for voters to decide.
“Every student in Kentucky should have the ability to succeed in a learning environment as unique as this, regardless of their family’s finances,” said EdChoice Kentucky President Moe Lundrigan.
Governors do not use the power to veto proposed constitutional amendments, but whoever wins the governorship in November can use his bully pulpit to promote or reject such a measure.