Beshear, Fletcher Outline Plans on Higher Education, Health Care

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's gubernatorial candidates reached out to voters on core issues Wednesday by outlining plans to make higher education and health care more affordable.

Democrat Steve Beshear said it's his goal to double the number of college graduates in Kentucky by 2020, and proposed a scholarship program and other efforts to make that happen.

"There's an old adage, 'the more you learn, the more your earn,"' Beshear said at a news conference at a downtown Louisville park. "I couldn't agree more."

His opponent, Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, released his plan to reduce the number of Kentuckians without health insurance and to make health coverage more affordable.

Fletcher's proposals include making more small businesses eligible for assistance with health insurance premiums under an existing state program, offering tax credits for businesses offering employee wellness programs and expanding the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program to provide coverage for more families and children.

"We want every Kentuckian to have the choice of affordable and available health care," Fletcher said in a statement.

Fletcher's announcement did not include a price tag for his proposals.

Beshear's higher education plan includes creating a scholarship program aimed at keeping more college graduates in Kentucky, encouraging more high school students to take college credits and enticing more adults to go back to school to complete college degrees.

Beshear said Kentucky lags near the nation's bottom in workforce education and the number of adults with college degrees.

Anchoring Beshear's proposal would be a "Kentucky First Scholarships" program, which would offer forgivable loans for tuition at Kentucky colleges and universities.

For every year a recipient worked in Kentucky following graduation, a year of tuition would be forgiven. The loan would be on top of other scholarships or grants students receive.

Recipients would not be obligated to remain in Kentucky, but if they moved out of state after graduation they would have to pay back the loan. Beshear's campaign estimated that the program would cost $27 million in the first year.

Beshear also proposed creating "Early College High Schools" that allow students to earn up to two years' worth of college credits before graduating from high school.

"We need to blur the lines between high school and college," he said.

Beshear said he would emphasize the "Bucks for Brains" program, which matches public money with private donations to attract top-notch researchers to Kentucky universities.

Meanwhile, Fletcher proposed allowing businesses with as many as 50 employees to seek assistance with health insurance premiums under an existing state program. Currently, the program offers help for businesses with up to 25 employees.

Fletcher also proposed funding to build a new facility to replace Eastern State Hospital in Lexington, which is one of the nation's oldest psychiatric facilities.

"Our strong financial situation allows us to do more to help every Kentuckian be healthy and have access to health care when they need it," Fletcher said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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