Gov. Steve Beshear and many lawmakers have consoled themselves with the soothing fiction that, despite deep cuts in everything from child care to State Police, Kentucky weathered the Great Recession without cutting basic state support for public schools.
While that might be technically true, the real-life effect of years of flat appropriations, while costs grew, is a decline of almost 10 percent inper-student funding from fiscal 2008 until this year.
That's according to a new report (cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4011) by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which discovered Kentucky is not alone: When you adjust for inflation, at least 34 states are providing less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession.
Kentucky's 9.9 percent decline ($477 per student) in inflation-adjusted spending is the 14th deepest among the states.
The report looked just at funding levels through each state's basic school funding mechanism, which in Kentucky is the SEEK formula. It did not attempt to calculate education cuts outside the basic formula which in Kentucky have been drastic in such areas as professional development, after-school tutoring and textbooks.
While school funding is starting to recover in most of the 34 states where it has declined in real terms, there's no rebound in Kentucky.
In fact, Kentucky is one of 15 states providing less inflation-adjusted funding per student to local school districts in this new school year than a year ago. Kentucky had the fifth-biggest year-to-year erosion in core education funding, according to the report.
Sadly, even if the state's economy takes off, Kentucky's support for education will not rebound in any appreciable way because our tax system is too outdated to capture growth in the modern economy.
Without tax reform, state support for education in Kentucky will continue to fall further behind, costing the state hard-earned gains in education achievement.
The fact that Beshear and lawmakers have been so eager to embrace the belief that school funding has been sacrosanct shows that they know how important education is.
The state's economy and future depend on better educating more Kentuckians.
Kentucky can't wait much longer to translate that recognition into action by tackling tax reform that generates more money for all levels of education, from early childhood to graduate school.