A parent rally in Lexington on Thursday night drew an estimated 500 people in support of Gov. Steve Beshear's proposed two-year state budget, which would restore many of the spending cuts to K-12 education made in the past five years.
"Our children's education is at risk. The state of Kentucky is at risk," said James Wagers, who helped organized the "Our Kids Can't Wait" rally at Lexington's Edythe J. Hayes Middle School.
The rally was an effort to encourage lawmakers in the General Assembly to increase school funding as they negotiate the state budget, said Liza Holland, another organizer.
The recent announcement that Fayette County Public Schools would trim $20 million from its 2014-15 budget "makes the sense of urgency even stronger," said Sharon Mofield-Boswell, whose children attend Wellington Elementary School and STEAM Academy.
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"It's important for parents to have their voices heard regarding the education of their children," Mofield-Boswell said.
Under Beshear's proposal, the state's primary school funding formula — known as Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, or SEEK — would go up by $189 million over the next two years. The bulk of that would be spent on raises of 2 percent in 2015 and 1 percent in 2016 for teachers and other school employees.
Beshear's proposal would expand preschool to 5,125 more children, using $36 million over two years to expand eligibility for 4-year-olds whose families are within 160 percent of the federal poverty level.
An additional $95 million would be spent in the two-year budget to restore funding for a variety of other education programs, such as textbooks, teacher training, after-school services and school safety.
Beshear's budget also would include $50 million in bonds to replace school technology and $100 million for school construction.
State Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said in a telephone interview that members of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, which he chairs, were pleased with Beshear's proposal.
"I anticipate that it will stay intact when the budget leaves the House," he said.
State Sen. Bob Leeper, chairman of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said in a telephone interview that he hoped SEEK funding could be restored to 2009 levels as education officials have requested. "Past that, it's way too early to make a prediction on it," said Leeper, an independent from Paducah.
A final vote on the budget is expected in April.
Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, the chair for the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education, and Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, appeared at the rally, but they said they did not know what would ultimately happen with the budget.
Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said the General Assembly mandated more rigorous standards in 2009.
But Holliday said at the same time the state has seen cuts to teachers, after-school programs and textbooks. He encouraged the crowd to reach out to the state Senate.
"We're not providing equitable funding for all of our students," said teacher Melanie Trowel
Trowel said professional development — training teachers to teach required educational standards — takes money.
Andrew Brennen, a Paul Laurence Dunbar senior who is on the Prichard Committee Student Voice team, told the crowd that students from Bowling Green to Whitesburg "are feeling the pinch."