Commissioner: Hundreds of Kentucky teachers could be laid off if funding not restored

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comDecember 4, 2013 

Education Commissioner Terry Holiday addressed an audience of students, faculty, staff and visitors from the state, University of Kentucky and media during an unveiling event at Woodford Co. High School in Versailles, Ky., on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said Wednesday that hundreds of teachers could be laid off in the spring if the General Assembly does not restore school funding cuts.

Kentucky school districts have "a perfect storm" coming, Holliday said at a meeting Wednesday of the Kentucky Board of Education.

"By next March or April, we predict 10 to 12 districts will fail to meet their basic financial commitment and we will see pink slips like we've never seen before," Holliday said.

Afterward, Holliday said that if money is not restored to 2008-09 levels, "we've done about all we can do with attrition. ...We are going to see teacher layoffs."

First, hundreds of teacher and teacher assistant positions will be lost to federal sequestration — cuts to federal programs that affect schools, he said. Holliday estimated another 1,000 teachers will be lost next year due to inadequate state funding. The board and Kentucky Department of Education officials are asking the General Assembly for an estimated $336 million in fiscal years 2015-16.

In part, the state Board of Education's request addresses SEEK funding, the primary source of funding for school districts. SEEK accounts for about $2.9 billion a year and is used for everything from instruction in classrooms to school bus maintenance. School officials have said the total amount of SEEK funds has remained flat, but the number of students and the attendance has increased, meaning the amount of funding per student has gone down from $3,866 per student in 2009 to $3,827 per student this year.

Educators are asking for $150 million over two years to restore SEEK funding to 2009 levels. Flexible focus funds — which include textbooks, preschool, extended school services, safe schools and staff professional development — also need to be restored to 2008 levels, officials said. Those funds dropped from $154 million in 2008 to $93 million this year.

Included in the request is $122 million to restore flexible focus grants.

Education officials are asking for an estimated total $40 million to fund technology. That would allow for increased Internet capability, technology services, and additional funding for computers.

Holliday reiterated Wednesday that potential additional revenue sources include tax reform and expanded gambling.

Gov. Steve Beshear and lawmakers have said they would like to restore funding cuts if possible. Some legislators have said that it is unlikely that tax reform will be addressed in the 2014 General Assembly.

Holliday said a couple hundred more teaching positions could be lost because of Kentucky school districts' bailout of the Kentucky School Board Insurance Trust.

Holliday said in the last three years Kentucky has lost an equivalent of 1,800 full-time teachers

He said all of the looming financial factors, including inadequate funding, will mean the loss of 1,500 to 2,000 more teachers or teacher assistants.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears

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