The issue of raises for public school teachers in Kentucky has been widely debated in recent months. On one side, you have hard-working teachers and grateful parents who support the effort to increase teacher pay. But on the other hand, you have concerned taxpayers that question if the funding will ultimately come from their pockets. Some districts in Kentucky have the financial means to fairly compensate teachers without asking overburdened taxpayers for more of their hard-earned dollars. But let’s take a closer look at one district, Jefferson County. 

Approximately 7,000 certified teachers are employed in Jefferson County, with the average teacher salary being roughly $73,000. These salaries are drawn from the $2 billion budget—the largest in the state of Kentucky. However, within the district’s budget, a whopping $6.94 million is allocated to the Diversity, Equity, and Poverty (DEP) department. In fact, 15 of the 38 employees in that department earn over $100,000, and several others earn just under that amount. 

This highlights the dilemma Kentucky districts will have to wrestle with: will these districts do what is best for students when discerning where to allocate money, or will they cater to political and social ideologies that do nothing to improve student achievement? Will they fund activities that look and feel good but accomplish very little for the student population, or will they fund the work of dedicated teachers whose primary concern is student learning?

You are not alone if you’re wondering what role the DEP department serves in student learning. Since its inception, they have drafted a Racial Educational Equity Plan, created a wide variety of Anchor Documents, crafted optional professional development sessions such as Best Practices Serving LGBTQ+ and Religion and Sexuality (LGBTQ+), and a mandatory four-hour session on Implicit Bias Training that culminates in a Racial Equity Improvement Plan that teachers must submit. 

For the ordinary school bureaucracy, the items listed above would conclude that the DEP department is necessary and that the department’s robust salaries are valid, but anyone with any common sense would look deeper. The truth is that none of these initiatives have led to higher student achievement, better attendance, or improved behavior. 

According to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), student proficiency in math has stagnated or declined over the past decade. The percentage of students in Jefferson County who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level was 17% in 2022, which is down from 22% in 2009. The literacy proficiency rate in 2022 was 26%, which is the same as in 2009. 

Despite all of the hours spent discussing how to make a classroom inclusive to LGBTQ+ students and Racial Equity Improvement Plans, chronic absenteeism continues to plague the district, as well. During the 2022-23 school year, roughly 37% of Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) students were chronically absent, meaning they missed at least 10% of the school year.

Student behavior has become so bad in recent years that JCPS had to cancel classes due to bus drivers refusing to deal with it on their routes. One bus driver cited fighting, smoking, vaping, and verbal abuse from students. It would seem that the DEI initiatives that the district spends millions on are not improving the overall environment.

We do know what would lead to better student outcomes, though. According to RAND, there are a myriad of factors that contribute to a student’s academic success, but research suggests that among school-related factors, teachers matter the most. In fact, when it comes to student performance in reading and math, teachers are estimated to have two to three times the effect on performance—more than any other school-related factor. 

If districts like JCPS and others around the state truly wanted to bolster student learning and fairly compensate their hard-working teachers, they would reallocate the millions wasted on initiatives that have no evidence of effectiveness to the educators who directly impact the learning and lives of students daily.

Claudine “Beanie” Geoghegan is the co-founder of Freedom in Education and a visiting fellow with the Education Freedom Center at Independent Women’s Forum ( She is a former teacher and resident of Louisville.