LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Venturing into a Democratic stronghold with another high-profile surrogate from the Trump administration, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin promoted school-choice efforts Thursday as a way to help urban neighborhoods as he campaigned in Kentucky’s largest city.
Democratic challenger Andy Beshear, meanwhile, advocated for improvements to public education and continued access to health care during a campaign swing in central Kentucky as the governor’s race entered its final five days before voters settle the matter.
Bevin was accompanied by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson during a stop at a western Louisville church to meet privately with community members. Some nearby yards displayed campaign signs encouraging people to “stop Bevin” and vote for Beshear.
Later, the governor told reporters that every child deserves an opportunity, “no matter what zip code they’re born into, no matter which end of the socio-economic spectrum they’re on.”
“This is a community that struggles with the need for more choice for parents and students,” he said. “We need better opportunities. We need kids to be given a chance.”
School choice has surfaced as one of many contentious issues in the governor’s race.
Bevin supports charter schools to give parents more choices regarding where to send their children. Beshear opposes them, saying they’ll divert funding from existing public schools.
The bitter rivals wrangled over education issues during their final debate Tuesday night.
During their televised exchange in northern Kentucky, Bevin touted a school-choice proposal that would award tax credits to people who donate to scholarship funds for special needs children and those in foster care or low- to middle-income homes to attend private schools. The bill died during this year’s legislative session.
Beshear countered that the proposal would defund public schools. Bevin said it wouldn’t.
“You are the single greatest threat to public education we have ever seen,” Beshear told Bevin.
Critics of the scholarship tax credit proposal say it would divert money from public education by reducing revenue for the state’s general fund, which pays for schools and many other state services.
Teachers rallied at Kentucky’s Capitol the past two years to oppose Bevin-backed education proposals as well as his attempts to revamp public pension systems. The governor lashed out at teachers who used sick days to attend the rallies. Some days, so many teachers assembled that some schools closed. Beshear has accused the governor of bullying teachers.
Beshear, the state’s attorney general, says if elected he’ll make public education funding his top priority in preparing a state budget to submit to state lawmakers. The Democratic challenger says he wants to reduce class sizes and reward teachers with a $2,000 across-the-board pay raise.
Bevin has criticized his opponent for not offering details on paying for policy proposals.
“You can promise all these things, but you have to be able to pay for them,” Bevin said at the recent debate.
Meanwhile, Bevin said Thursday that the state’s new school accountability system recently showed that underperforming schools - including those in Louisville - are falling further behind.
“Who does it hurt? It hurts this community,” the governor said.
When asked about the school system in Louisville, Bevin told reporters: “I’m for better results, and we’ll get ‘em any way we’ve got to get ‘em, you can bet on it.”
Carson was the latest member of President Donald Trump’s administration to appear with Bevin, who is locked in a close race with Beshear. Vice President Mike Pence will campaign with Bevin on Friday in southeastern Kentucky, and Trump is scheduled to make an election-eve pitch for Bevin at a Monday rally in Lexington.
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