Kentucky’s education commissioner told the Bevin administration this week that even a third of a requested 17.4 percent cut to the state education budget “will reduce the quality of instruction in Kentucky schools” and hurt the state’s most vulnerable students.
The $22.8 million budget reduction plan submitted by Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt exempts the Kentucky schools for the blind and the deaf, but includes cuts to other programs for blind, deaf and poor children in addition to cuts for textbooks and teacher training.
Pruitt had been told to cut $69.5 million from the $4 billion state education budget that began in July. But in a three-page letter to state budget officials, Pruitt said he would not propose to cut the full amount. The Herald-Leader obtained the letter under Kentucky’s open records law.
“While the proposed amount is less than the request, 173 school districts rely on state education funding to provide Kentucky’s 655,000 public school students with their constitutionally guaranteed education, and any additional reductions jeopardize the ability of districts to provide that education,” he wrote.
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The administration of Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, asked state agencies to submit by Sept. 25 plans to cut their budgets to offset an expected $200 million budget shortfall this year and add $150 million to the state’s rainy day fund for emergencies. The governor exempted the chunk of state money, called SEEK, that goes to school districts for transportation and operating costs, and a few other programs.
Bevin’s press secretary Woody Maglinger said Friday in response to Pruitt’s proposal that “the Commonwealth is facing severe financial pressures arising from the unsustainable pension obligations and anticipated revenue shortfalls.”
The budget office asked all agencies to plan for likely spending reductions. “At this time, however, no decisions have been made and no official actions have been taken,” Maglinger said.
Pruitt said his proposal limited the impact to staffing, classrooms and instruction, career and technology centers, and programs that provide internet connectivity and technology resources to school districts. He said the plan takes into consideration that 14 districts have already been adversely impacted by the loss of more than $100,000 in unmined mineral tax revenue.
Pruitt’s proposal includes a $2.6 million cut to Frankfort-based Department of Education operations. Additionally, $8.2 million would be cut for textbooks and instructional devices in classrooms. He proposes a $4.5 million reduction in learning opportunities for teachers through professional development.
There would be a $7. 4 million cut or elimination of grants to agencies in the community that provide education services. In Lexington, for example, the Lexington Hearing and Speech Center would lose $8,700 in grant money under the proposal. Visually impaired preschool services would lose the same amount. The Save the Children organization which provides education and health programs would be cut $470,700.
School Family Resource and Youth Service Centers, which provide counseling, tutoring and other services to reduce barriers to learning, would lose $4.5 million, which “would negatively impact supports to our most vulnerable students,” Pruitt said in his letter.
Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk said he was “grateful to the commissioner for his candor in sharing his proposal so that we can begin to start formulating preliminary contingency plans. “
“At this time, we are awaiting additional information from the Kentucky Department of Education to quantify the potential impact on Fayette County funding in the areas of professional development, textbooks and family resource and youth service centers. We are committed to finding ways to adjust our budget so that we maintain services to students,” Caulk said in a statement Thursday.
Members of the Fayette County Board of Education unanimously approved a $487 million working budget for 2017-18 on Monday, Sept. 25.
District officials said one of the uncertainties was the governor’s request to cut spending.
“We have complete confidence in Commissioner Pruitt and appreciate that his primary consideration in developing the recommended budget reduction proposal was protecting the classroom,” Caulk said.
Other future budget uncertainties for Fayette County include a flat enrollment, the financial impact that the state pension crisis could have on school districts, whether there will be increases in the employer retirement match and how many children the district could lose to charter schools expected to open in 2018-19.