Under a school safety bill signed into law last spring, Kentucky’s public schools will see more counselors and school resource officers, along with an increased focus on equipping school staff to recognize and respond to students’ traumatic experiences.
But lawmakers will have to contend with one key sticking point with the start of this year’s legislative session Tuesday – how to fund improvements laid out in the School Safety and Resiliency Act.
Lawmakers will weigh several competing priorities as they craft a two-year state budget this session – including a potential budget shortfall topping $1 billion over the biennium. However, the leader of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents said he’s confident lawmakers will make state funding for the bill a priority.
“Safety is paramount to everything we do in education,” KASS Executive Director Jim Flynn said.
In partnership with the Kentucky School Boards Association, Flynn said KASS has made the case to lawmakers about the recurring cost of hiring additional personnel and safety upgrades to school facilities.
“Many superintendents are concerned about the facility improvements and having a funding stream to make those happen,” he said.
Many districts, including Warren County Public Schools and the Bowling Green Independent School District, have already been working to boost the number of mental health professionals and resource officers in their schools.
Citing an estimate from the Kentucky School Boards Association, WDRB in Louisville reported that implementing the legislation would cost school districts at least $121 million more each year. Joshua Shoulta, director of communications for the KSBA, echoed that estimate in response to a question from the Daily News.
“From the data we have collected from Kentucky’s school districts, $121 million for counselors and resource officers represents a bare minimum cost estimate to comply with the School Safety and Resiliency Act,” Shoulta wrote in an email, adding that amount doesn’t take into account the additional cost of fortifying school entrances.
“That’s on top of the $18 million needed for improvements to school facility safety features. (The) KSBA and other education groups will continue to advocate for adequate state funding of our public schools, including monies designated for school safety,” Shoulta wrote.
Despite its importance, state support for the safety upgrades districts are currently investing in is just one piece of the equation, Flynn said.
Having ousted Republican Gov. Matt Bevin from office last year, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has promised teachers an across-the-board $2,000 pay raise.
He’s also vowed to boost spending on Kentucky’s K-12 schools, with the current amount of per-pupil funding in Kentucky reaching $4,000. Some have claimed that amount has risen to historic highs in recent years.
However, per-pupil funding through the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky program represents both state and local funds, and according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, the state’s share has declined over the past decade.
Additionally, when inflation is factored in, total per-pupil funding has been falling for the past decade, according to the KCEP.
Schools have also faced cuts in other areas, from school transportation to preschool and extended school services, textbooks and teacher training, according to the KCEP.
At the same time, Flynn said, Kentucky is facing a teacher shortage and current educators are being asked to take on increased responsibilities, from playing social worker to counselor and law enforcement.
“We need to be mindful of everything we put on our teachers’ plates,” he said.