The final version of Kentucky's budget for elementary and secondary education drew praise Tuesday from a state education official and organizers of the "Our Kids Can't Wait" campaign to restore school funding cuts.
In the budget approved by the General Assembly on Monday, the state's main school funding formula, known as SEEK, will increase by $189 million over the next two years. Most of that will be spent on raises for teachers and other school employees.
There's also more money for technology and for textbooks, said Kentucky Department of Education associate commissioner Hiren Desai.
Desai said department officials were pleased that Gov. Steve Beshear and the General Assembly strongly reinvested in K-12 education in the next biennial budget.
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"Reinvesting in education will ensure that our school districts can continue to build on the tremendous progress made in raising the high school graduation rate and improving the college/career-readiness of our students," Desai said.
An Our Kids Can't Wait summit in November hosted by the Kentucky Education Action Team — a group made up of several state associations for parents, teachers or school officials — and rallies across the state "had an impact" on legislators, said Stu Silberman, who heads the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
"Considering there was no new revenue, overall we were pleased," said Silberman, the former Fayette County superintendent.
Silberman said the KEAT had three main priorities for the legislative session: restore the SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) funds, restore flexible-focus funds used for things like textbooks and teacher training, and get more money for technology.
All three were addressed in the budget, he said.
"It was the first time that anybody can remember that all these different organizations went in with the same three priorities," Silberman said. "We felt like that was important to keep a very focused message."
The state will raise teacher pay 1 percent in 2015 and 2 percent in 2016. Local districts could give larger raises.
State Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, who helped negotiate the budget, said educators had indicated that increasing teachers' salaries was a top priority.
Current funding is $93 million a year for teacher training, extended school services, textbooks and other instructional materials and school safety, Desai said. The new budget provides approximately $30 million in additional funding in 2015 and $42 million in 2016.
Included in those amounts is $16.7 million each year for textbooks and instructional materials, compared to zero today, he said.
In terms of technology, the state Department of Education currently spends $12.6 million a year for internet access for school districts.
The budget provides for an increase of $2.9 million in 2015 and $5.8 million in 2016, which can be used for expansion of internet access. Flood said it could also be used for other technology.
Sen. David Givens, R- Greensburg, who also helped negotiate the budget, said that increasing bandwidth was one of the highest priorities for schools that were surveyed.
Liza Holland, past president of the 16th District PTA, was an organizer of two Our Kids Can't Wait rallies in Lexington. She said a new permanent group in Central Kentucky has been formed to continue the advocacy work.
"I think that anytime that legislators really see that citizens are engaged, it makes a difference," said Holland. "I haven't been able to see all of the numbers as of yet, but it's obvious that our legislators do have a commitment to education."
Andrew Brennen. a Paul Laurence Dunbar High School student who spoke at the rallies, said he was excited about the budget, but there was still more work to be done because the SEEK funding has been restored just to 2008 levels.
Flood said the budget emphasizes services that help every child succeed, including making way for 5,100 additional preschool students to attend public-school programs through preschool expansion in 2016.
And the budget reflects "the commitment to the path of reform we set ourselves on 30 years ago," she said. "It's going to be a good year for kids in the classroom."