Kentucky lawmakers pass bill to fund full-day kindergarten

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers passed a last-minute spending plan Tuesday to pump money into full-day kindergarten and to pay off unemployment insurance debts as big-ticket budget items surfaced on the final day of this year’s legislative session.

Other measures still awaiting votes in the waning hours of the session would spend hundreds of millions in federal pandemic aid on school construction and on water and wastewater projects.

By dipping into federal and state funds, the spending spree could end up topping $1 billion in a reflection of some of Gov. Andy Beshear’s priorities. State government in Kentucky is expected to eventually receive about $2.4 billion from the federal pandemic aid package championed by President Joe Biden and passed by congressional Democrats.

One proposal winning final passage contained $140 million in state funds to support full-day kindergarten. The measure cleared the Senate on a 36-1 vote soon after it was advanced by a committee. The House later voted 90-3 to send the measure to the governor.

Kentucky’s school districts now get state funding for half-day kindergarten, with districts using local taxpayer money to pay for full-day services.

That spending plan included Beshear’s proposal to use $575 million in federal pandemic aid to repay a federal loan that kept the state’s unemployment insurance program afloat. The program faced an unprecedented surge in jobless claims last year due to COVID-19.

It also added another $50 million in federal money for broadband projects. Lawmakers already had allocated $250 million of federal aid to extend broadband service to underserved areas.

Another late-surfacing proposal would use $127 million of federal relief money for school facility construction and more than $50 million of the federal money for renovations at the state Capitol. It also contained $75 million in state money for construction at area vocational education centers. That proposal was still awaiting final action Tuesday evening.

A separate spending bill still needing a final vote would allocate $250 million in federal pandemic aid for a water and wastewater grant program in Kentucky. Beshear also advocated using some of the federal money for such infrastructure work.

Beshear and legislative leaders have tried to hash out a plan to spend at least part of the federal aid before the session ends. If lawmakers don’t decide how to spend the money, it could create a need for a special legislative session later in the year to make those decisions.