FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rocky Adkins offered a plan Thursday to provide free community college and job training for adults, saying it would pay dividends for Kentucky by boosting workforce development and economic growth.Adkins calls for free community college, skills training
Adkins' proposal calls for two years of tuition-free community college or technical school for all high school graduates and adults who haven't earned a credential, regardless of income. The state would pay the amount of tuition not covered by scholarships and federal grants.
Adkins, the minority floor leader of the Kentucky House, didn't immediately put a price tag on the initiative. The Sandy Hook Democrat said he would look at state lottery reserve funds to help pay for it and would work with state lawmakers to provide funding for the initiative.
"If we're going to have the kind of economy that we want to have here in Kentucky, if we're going to create the kind of jobs that our people need and deserve, this initiative is a must," Adkins said in an interview at the state Capitol on the next-to-last day of this year's legislative session.
It's not a new idea. Tennessee offers a similar program, and Kentucky lawmakers tried in 2016 to insulate community college students from tuition burdens.
"I agree and have supported this plan ... since it was first pushed by House Democrats in 2016," said Adam Edelen, one of Adkins' rivals for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Adkins said his proposal expands on the 2016 effort that he co-sponsored.
His proposal would apply to new high school graduates and people already in the workforce who are in need of retraining after losing their jobs, he said. The effect would be widespread, and could apply to urban manufacturing workers and displaced coal miners alike, Adkins said.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's office said Thursday that a scholarship program already exists to help Kentuckians on their path toward career certifications and associate degrees. Adkins said the Work Ready Scholarship program is too limited, applying to a handful of sectors in need of skilled workers.
Four Democrats are seeking their party's nomination for governor this year. Besides Adkins and Edelen, a former state auditor, the others are state Attorney General Andy Beshear and frequent candidate Geoff Young.
Beshear said he would propose boosting higher education funding if he's elected governor.
"Free community college is indeed one good idea, but we also must increase funding for our public universities and ultimately decrease the cost of sending Kentuckians to college," Beshear said in a statement Thursday. "Whether our young adults are entering a skilled trade or pursuing a four-year degree, they shouldn't be burdened with crushing student debt."
In the state's Republican gubernatorial primary, Bevin faces challenges from state Rep. Robert Goforth, William Woods and Ike Lawrence. Kentucky's primary election is May 21. Kentucky is one of three states that will elect governors in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.