James Wagers and Liza Holland decided to take action when they realized that education funding cuts meant that their children's schools in Fayette County might not get new books, technology and other essentials.
Now they are hoping that other parents and community groups join them in asking Kentucky's governor and lawmakers to restore school funding in the 2014-16 state budget.
"There are a lot of parents ... who simply either choose not to know or simply don't know the critical stage that we are in right now with regard to funding for our schools," said Wagers, whose daughter attends Beaumont Middle School.
So far, it's been mostly education officials who have lobbied for education money.
But Wagers and Holland, whose children attend Tates Creek Middle and High schools, want parents and community members across the state to lend their voice.
Education officials are asking that school funding be restored to 2008-2009 levels for an additional $336 million in the two-year state budget.
The Support Education Excellence in Kentucky program is the primary source of funding for school districts. At least $150 million is needed just to return SEEK funding on a per-student basis to where it was five years ago, education officials have said.
Wagers and Holland say they are concerned about cuts to professional development, technology, textbooks, preschool programs and after-school help for struggling students.
The local grassroots coalition, which Holland said was prompted by the advocacy group Kentucky Education Action Team, has a base group of about 40 and appears to be gaining numbers. Joined by community members and local education organizations, they are planning a rally at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at Wellington Elementary at 3280 Keithshire Way in Lexington, which they hope will draw hundreds.
Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, the chair for the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education, said Wednesday that she supports the effort and expects to attend the rally.
While Flood has indicated that the entire funding request for schools will not be met this year, she said Wednesday, "This is the advocacy necessary to galvanize support for education funding in the state and for a deeper investment in our commitment to reform."
As part of a lobbying effort, the parents plan to speak to local civic groups and at public meetings and generally urge other local citizens to communicate their support for more school funding.
Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton said the KEAT group had been trying to engage and educate parents.
"They become the best advocates for their children," Shelton said. There are a lot more parents than there are educators, he said.
"To have their voice is crucial" in making sure lawmakers understand that students should not be subjected to inadequate funding, he said.
Wagers and Holland are also asking parents to come to a Children's Advocacy Day Rally at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort at 10 a.m. Jan. 16.
In Gov. Steve Beshear's State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, the governor said he was determined to find money to reinvest in education. Otherwise, Beshear said Kentucky faces the prospect of laying off significant numbers of teachers, greatly increasing classroom sizes and letting technology and equipment grow more outdated.
Holland said she has hired a tutor for her son because there are so many students in one of his mathematics classes that he can't get individualized attention.
Wagers said he sees a real threat of losing more teachers through ongoing cuts.
"A student has just one chance to get a quality education," Wagers, a School-Based Decision Making Council member at Beaumont, said in a news release.
Holland, past president of the 16th District PTA, pointed to Senate Bill 1, which was passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2009 and calls for more rigorous standards to ensure more Kentuckians graduate from high school ready for college and careers. Holland said Senate Bill 1 was an unfunded mandate.
"These cuts have happened even as the federal No Child Left Behind and state Senate Bill 1 education reform laws have pushed our students and educators into the most massive changes in teaching and learning since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990," Holland said in the release. "Elementary and secondary education in our state is progressing, but that progress carries a cost in dollars and cents."
Holland said in an interview that money from grants and PTA groups has been making up for some of the cuts, but parents should be insisting that tax dollars be prioritized toward education.
"Every citizen of Fayette County needs to be a part of this and lending a voice," she said. "It's incumbent upon us to do something extraordinary."
How to get involved
For more information on how parents and community members can get involved in the school funding issue, contact Liza Holland at Liza@LizaHolland.com or (859) 533-3038 or James C. Wagers at email@example.com or (859)492-1523