Banding together with their colleagues across Kentucky, school district superintendents of the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative are calling on lawmakers to boost K-12 funding during next year’s legislative session as they draft a one-year state budget.
The call to action, which was issued during a live-streamed event the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents held with education co-ops across the state Wednesday, comes as the state Department of Education is considering an 8% cut to the current-year budget.
The proposed spending cuts totaling $28,490,800 would affect services KDE can offer local districts, including funding for technology and family resource and youth services centers – services that have been crucial for schools’ response to the coronavirus crisis.
“Bottom line: Kentucky needs to make a stronger investment in its public schools. It’s an economic, workforce and community development investment that will improve the quality of our lives both today and well into the future,” Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton said during the event.
Adequate and equitable school funding tops the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents’ 2021 legislative agenda. Local school districts are increasingly shouldering the burden of funding full-day kindergarten, preschool and school transportation costs, Clayton said.
Other KASS legislative priorities include what the superintendents called “the five P’s.” They include professional educator recruitment and retention, pension reform, public school “privatization efforts,” principal selection and protecting students and schools.
That last priority entails enhanced legal liability protections for school boards and districts, school safety funding and reforms to shield students from bias including “race-based, gender-based or any other form of discrimination,” Clinton County Schools Superintendent Tim Parson said.
“Given current events, it is especially critical that we foster a culture of anti-racism and work together to further racial equality within all facets of society, including in our public schools,” Parson said.
Clayton called on state lawmakers to increase the basic level of state funding schools get per pupil through the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky program. Lawmakers should also increase money available for the support services schools offer and continue funding for implementing the School Safety and Resiliency Act, he said.
Last year, lawmakers raised per-pupil funding provided through SEEK to $4,000, but that total includes both state and local funds.
Clayton said lawmakers need to increase state support for teacher training and school facility upgrades and for children with special needs, adding that legislators should consider tax reform solutions “including a full review of all tax expenditure exemptions and exonerations.”
That includes increased power for local schools to raise their own tax revenue, Clayton said.
“Though education is a state responsibility by our constitution, the burden of education funding is shifting from the state to the local districts, which have limited our means for raising much needed revenue,” Clayton said. “We ask the General Assembly to provide more flexibility for local school boards and their ability to implement or raise taxes to support students.”
The call for increased K-12 funding comes as the KDE is considering another round of budget cuts. It presented its draft budget plan to the General Assembly’s Budget and Review Subcommittee on Education on Oct. 21.
Previously, KDE was asked by the state’s budget office to plan for cuts as high as $43,626,300, but with KDE’s proposed exemptions – including an exemption for SEEK funds, the main funding source for K-12 schools in Kentucky – that amount fell to $28,490,800, the department said in a recent news release.
“While this is lower than the requested amount from the Office of State Budget Director, this will still directly affect our local school districts and the services that we’re able to provide to them,” Karen Wirth, KDE’s budget director, said in the release.
Other requested exemptions include money for preschool and secondary vocational education, state matches for federal meal programs and state appropriations for the Kentucky School for the Blind and the Kentucky School for the Deaf, the department said.
Asked how these current-year budget reductions might affect local schools, Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields said his district has tried to make contingencies in anticipation of the cuts.
“Knowing what we knew back in the spring … we didn’t have to fill some positions, knowing we were going to be on some kind of hybrid schedule,” Fields said. “So we’ve been able to keep a few positions open that normally would be filled because we just don’t have as many kids in person.”
Fields stressed that planned raises for school staff, which were slated to go into effect prior to the pandemic, should be reinstated in next year’s budget.
“Our employees have been at work. They’ve been back. They’ve been on the frontline of providing, not just education, but social-emotional services for students,” Fields said. “I think the legislature really needs to consider how they are going to make that work for this one-year budget.”
Warren County Public Schools is also planning for projected budget cuts, Clayton said.
“It reemphasizes the need to look at our current funding structure to ensure that we do seek out the necessary revenue as we move forward, not just in this budget cycle, but for years to come,” Clayton said.
The General Assembly is slated to start its 30-day legislative session Jan. 5.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.