Monday, November 21, 2022

Beshear defends pandemic mitigation strategies that hurt student learning, saying that loss can be made up but lives can't

Gov. Andy Beshear (Official portrait)
Gov. Andy Beshear discussed a number of health topics during an interview with Bill Bryant on WKYT-TV's "Kentucky Newsmakers," including medical cannabis, Delta-8 THC, abortion and the state's response to the pandemic as it relates to education. 

Asked if he could have done anything differently in the pandemic to mitigate the loss of learning among Kentucky's school children, Beshear told Bryant that regardless of the varied approaches taken by states, "Everybody has suffered this learning loss." 

Noting that Covid-19 has killed 17,400 Kentuckians and would have killed many more, he said, "We can make up for learning loss. But we can't make up for the loss of life of a single parent whose kids are left without them, or from a grandparent." 

The question was prompted by statewide test scores, released in October, that showed fewer than half of Kentucky public-school students were reading at grade level, with even lower scores posted in mathematics, science and social studies, the Louisville Courier Journal reported in October.  

Republicans have strongly criticized Beshear's pandemic policies that  closed schools to in-person learning, saying they contributed to the dismal test scores. State party spokesman Sean Southard told Bruce Schreiner of the Associated Press, “Despite his efforts to run away from his pandemic actions, students and parents will not forget the biggest contributor to learning loss in the Commonwealth of Kentucky: Governor Andy Beshear." 

Beshear has introduced an Education First Plan to address the teacher shortage and loss of learning for students during the pandemic that includes, among other things, a 5% pay raise for school staff and universal pre-K. Funding  for this initiative would require the approval of the General Assembly and opening the biennial budget in an off-year. Republicans who run the legislature have ignored similar proposals from him.

Medical cannabis and Delta-8 THC

Beshear told Bryant that his recent executive order to allow possession of up to 8 ounces of cannabis for medical purposes is "limited and specific" because he can only do so much through executive authority. 

The executive order allows individuals who have one of 21 conditions that are certified by a medical professional to legally purchase medical marijuana in one of the 37 states where it is  legally sold. The order takes effect Jan. 1, 2023. 

Beshear went on to encourage the legislature to pass a medical marijuana bill during the next legislative session, which begins in January. A bill passed the House this year but got no hearing in the Senate.

"I'd say to our General Assembly I'm not trying to fight with you, but something has to be done and  that's why we've taken our actions," he told Bryant. "So please come in, pass medicinal marijuana. I'll rescind both orders happily if you do."

Beshear's other executive order about cannabis regulates Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, a legal psychoactive substance that comes from hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD. The main psychoactive compound in marijuana is Delta-9, which is more potent. 

"We just need to ensure that since it's a legal product, at least at the moment, that we are properly regulating it," Beshear told Bryant. He added that the process will also set up a system of regulation that could easily be expanded to medical marijuana. 

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, sponsored Senate Bill 170 during the last legislative session to ban Delta-8 THC in Kentucky. It passed out of the Senate, but was not considered in the House. 


Asked if he thought the failure of Amendment 2 on Nov. 8 meant that Kentuckians want abortion restrictions to be loosened going forward, Beshear said he thought it showed Kentuckians were opposed to the state's current abortion law, which does not allow for exceptions for rape or incest. 

"I think that vote shows that Kentuckians oppose the most extremist law in the country," he told Bryant. 

The amendment would have amended the state constitution to say that nothing in it should be construed to create a right to abortion or funding of abortion. After it failed by 5 percentage points, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit against current laws, one of which took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in June. 

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