Statement in Response to the Governor’s 2014 State of the Commonwealth Address

It is altogether fitting and proper that a major piece of the Governor’s speech was about kids and families.  The Governor, in fact, took an important first step in protecting children from abuse – he is appropriately touted as a health reformer whose efforts work – and he and the First Lady were pivotal in raising the graduation rate.

And much of the vision that he describes is truly aspirational for children.  Once again, his focus on health around such issues as obesity; oral health care for children, curbs to e-cigarettes; booster seat regulation improvements; substance abuse; and a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law shows a deep understanding of the role of children’s health in creating a quality future for the Commonwealth.

Clearly, as the Governor asserts, we have to keep pace in the broad arena of education.  While investments are needed to support core services, increased dollars are insufficient. Those added investments must be accompanied by accountability measures on such fronts as re-evaluating the state’s assessment system and ensuring that any additional resources are channeled to classrooms and not bureaucracies.

Those investments must also be accompanied by a commitment to innovations such as charter schools and a reform of teacher evaluation.  So when it comes to K-12, the Governor has part of the equation right – we need more resources.  But that cannot be a stand alone commitment without the kinds of accountability and innovative measures noted.  What if the Governor tackled the sector of K-12 education with the innovative and open spirit he is applying to SOAR and health reform?

The other major challenge that must be met head on when it comes to education is around early childhood.  While the Race to the Top grant will bring needed federal dollars to improve early learning, neither the Governor nor the General Assembly can abrogate the responsibility to restore supports for child care and kinship care.  If those two issues are not addressed, then we have a state government – and a Commonwealth Address – that are long on rhetoric and short on action when it comes to the youngest citizens amongst us.

The Governor cares about kids and families.  His track record around kids, especially on a variety of health measures since his first year in office, demonstrates that he cares.  Tonight’s speech paints a 2014 session  that holds hope for children, especially when it comes to health, but that hope needs to be deepened in a number of areas, such as a rigorous examination of K-12 before we simply throw money at it and a restoration of basic supports to families in child and kinship care.

The Governor also gets an “A” for guts in a continued drive for tax modernization.  We just need to make sure that any such reform honors the opening invocation’s appeal “not to oppress the poor.”  Can we change the tax system and honor that principle?  Can we build a budget which places a priority on children and families?  Can we create a process that proactively address both spending and revenue problems?  The answers to those questions are legacy creators for the Governor, for Speaker Stumbo and for President Stivers.  State budgets are about tough choices and children have to be at the epicenter of those decisions for the Commonwealth’s present and for its future.

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For any questions or to schedule an interview, please contact Andrea Bennett at abennett@kyyouth.org or 502-381-1176.