K-12 schools' funding would revert to 2008 levels; colleges take another hit

Universities stand to lose $65 million

lblackford@herald-leader.comJanuary 18, 2012 

FRANKFORT — Schoolchildren might see bigger classes while college students are sure to pay higher tuition under the budget proposed by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Beshear said he had protected K-12 and higher education as long as he could. But next year, basic funding for K-12 students will revert to 2008 levels, while state universities could lose as much as $65 million.

Beshear would not cut the K-12 schools' main funding formula, but because there is no new money and more students, spending per student will go down from the planned $3,903 in 2012 to $3,833 in 2013 and $3,827 in 2014. That doesn't count a proposed 4.5 percent cut in 2013 to other educational services, such as family resource centers, extended school services, professional development and technology.

Beshear complimented educators on doing good work, despite nearly 30 percent cuts to some services during the past four years. He cited a recent national study that raised Kentucky's educational ranking from 34th to 14th.

"It's going to be a difficult situation for school districts to handle," he said. "They've worked diligently with me over the last four years ... with amazing results."

However, those gains will be erased quickly, said Stu Silberman, director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, which recently joined with other education groups to ask the General Assembly for $323 million to boost basic education funding.

"It was obvious his priority is still education," Silberman said. "But I go back to what Wendell Ford said years ago: Education cuts don't heal. We've made great progress, but we can't continue to make those strides without adequate funding."

Silberman said the coalition, the Kentucky Education Action Team, had voted to support Beshear's efforts at tax reform and for a vote on expanded gambling.

Fayette County School Superintendent Tom Shelton said the Lexington district probably was in a better financial position than some others to absorb additional state funding reductions. But he said further cuts would be painful.

Despite the cutbacks, Beshear proposed spending an additional $15 million to add 4,430 4-year-olds to state preschool programs. His proposal also includes $100 million in bonds for school construction.

Colleges lose again

Higher education would see a 6.4 percent cut to base funding, although the state would provide $451 million in agency bonds for projects that can pay for themselves, such as student centers, dorms or cafeterias.

That could mean a $19 million cut to the University of Kentucky. Tuition at UK has increased 161 percent since 2000.

"Such reductions, without question, would have a significant impact on the University of Kentucky," President Eli Capilouto said in a statement. "It would force all of us to make strategic — and, yes, tough — decisions.

"But the bottom line is this: while the governor's budget proposal is important, it represents the first step in a long process. Let me assure you, UK will be in Frankfort every day to make our case about the importance of investment in this institution."

UK would get authorization to spend $175 million to build new dorms, which UK is considering doing with a private development firm.

That's on top of a $200 million agency bond pool that UK would receive permission to spend under Beshear's budget. Unlike other schools, which have particular projects they've made a priority, UK would use that authorization on self-financed projects, possibly in combination with private money, for the most flexibility.

Beshear's budget also would include $25 million to help with building maintenance on college campuses.

Beshear said his budget did not include any mention of the University of Pike ville, which is trying to become a state university. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, announced Tuesday they had filed a bill that would use coal-severance tax funds to operate the school and lower its tuition. Stumbo has said the plan would require $14 million a year.

Beshear's budget would not cut the merit-based KEES college scholarships or need-based aid, and would fully fund the National Guard Tuition Assistance Program.

"We clearly understand the condition of the budget, but it is disappointing that we're going to take the magnitude we're going to have to take," said Robert King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education. "The campuses have got to find ways to reduce expenditures, and at a certain level it starts to impact quality."

Staff writers Bill Estep and Jim Warren contributed to this article.

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