FRANKFORT — A new education coalition said Wednesday that state support for Kentucky public schools has fallen during the past four years despite perceptions to the contrary. It urged Gov. Steve Beshear and the 2012 General Assembly to reverse the trend with more money.
The Kentucky Education Action Team, calling itself KEAT, contended that inflation, combined with state funding that has remained flat or been cut in some areas, has led to declines in seven key programs, including the basic Support Educational Excellence in Kentucky, or SEEK, funding that supports school operations.
"Our purpose is to let our legislators ... and the citizens of Kentucky know the realities of what has happened to funding in our schools over the last four-year period. There has been a trend ... of reduction after reduction after reduction," said Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and a spokesman for KEAT.
The reductions are risky because they have come as Kentucky schools are preparing for new content standards, a new accountability system and a new statewide test, KEAT members said during a news conference in the state Capitol rotunda.
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According to the group's numbers, SEEK base funding, when adjusted for inflation, has fallen from about $4,230 per pupil in fiscal 2007-08 to $3,769 per student this fiscal year. Other programs, such as preschools, family resource centers, safe schools and professional development for teachers, have been cut sharply, while there has been no state funding for textbooks for two years running, the group said.
Susan Perkins Weston, an analyst with KEAT, estimated it would take $323 million to restore educational support to 2008 levels. That would amount to adding about 4 percent to the state general fund budget, Weston said.
KEAT, formed recently, is made up of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Association of School Councils, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, Kentucky Education Association, Kentucky PTA and the Prichard Committee.
Bill Scott, executive director of the school boards' association, said there was a public perception that education generally has been "held harmless" from budget cuts.
"But make no mistake, our funding has dwindled," Scott said. "In this time of growing expectations for kids, our money has not only remained flat but in some ways has diminished. That's the point we've tried to make today."
Beshear has said at various times that he has protected SEEK funding during the tight budget restrictions of recent years.
That's true, KEAT officials said Wednesday. Weston said the state has kept the basic SEEK amount guaranteed to local school districts the same.
"But each year the state has expected local school districts to contribute more," she said. "Every year the district share has been bigger and the state share has been smaller."
In addition, Weston said that during the past two years, the state planned to raise the SEEK guarantee but underestimated the number of students to be covered. As a result, school districts had to spread the money they received over more students, meaning fewer dollars per student, she said.
At the same time, Weston said, preschool and other programs received outright cuts.
Kentucky Education Association president Sharron Oxendine said state support for teachers' professional development was $25 per student four years ago, but is $4 now. That's an 84 percent reduction, she said.
"At the very time we need more support ... teachers are being given less," Oxendine said.
Mayfield Independent Schools Superintendent Lonnie Burgett said reductions threaten schools' ability to serve students.
"Local districts cannot continue to provide each student with the highest quality education ... when declines ... deprive them of adequate resources to do so," he said.
Jessamine County School Superintendent Lu Young, speaking for the school superintendents' association, said cuts to safe schools, instructional resources and similar programs were "startling."
"We urge the members of the General Assembly to renew your commitment to adequate funding for education," she said.