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Gov. hopes to save KET courses

Gov. Steve Beshear said Friday that he hopes to find a way to preserve a 30-year-old program that has allowed thousands of Kentuckians to take college courses on Kentucky Educational Television.

The KET College Courses program, which began in 1978, will continue through the fall semester but shut down at the end of the year because of budget cutbacks, officials say.

”I want to get the facts and see if there's anything we can do about that,“ he said. ”The educational thrust of KET obviously is an essential part of their mission, and something that moves Kentucky along.“

Beshear said the KET program is another example of program cutbacks that people have complained about at Town Hall meetings he's attended recently. Many have expressed a willingness to support a cigarette tax increase to raise more revenue, he said.

The program is funded through an annual grant of about $182,000 from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. But the council is discontinuing that funding as a result of state budget cuts, spokeswoman Sue Patrick said.

About 4,000 students use the program each year, many of them working adults who rely on the TV service to take courses from participating Kentucky colleges because they can't take time off work to attend courses on campus. KET said Friday that more than 140,000 students have used the program.

KET spokesman Tim Bischoff noted Friday that the program generates revenue for participating schools because students must pay tuition when they enroll for the courses.

Last year that amounted to $2.1 million, he said.

Schools that offer credit courses through the KET program include the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Eastern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, Morehead State University and Kentucky State University.

Campus instructors facilitate the courses, communicating with students by e-mail, phone or fax. Some campus visits might be required. Students earn three hours of credit upon completing each course.

Bischoff said that because of other budget cutbacks KET already is facing, network officials had no other choice but to close down the College Courses program after the fall semester.

KET officials on Friday called the shutdown a ”unique“ situation, noting that education is a core function of the statewide television network.

They said that, as far as they could recall, it was the first time KET has ever closed out such a large educational effort.

Beshear, attending a Democratic Party function in Western Kentucky on the eve of the Fancy Farm picnic, said he'll seek a solution to the shutdown.

The fact that the KET program will continue through the end of the year ”gives us a little time to see if there's something we can do,“ the governor said.

House Speaker Jody Richards, attending the same Western Kentucky Democratic get-together on Friday, put much of the blame for the KET situation on the Republican-controlled state Senate.

”Had the Senate approved our budget ... this never would have happened,“ he said.

Richards said KET executives told him they were ­”really pinched“ financially after the last legislative session.

He said, however, that the KET situation could help provide ammunition for a renewed push for a cigarette tax increase. He said he and House Appropriations and Revenue Chairman Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, are crafting a revenue measure for the 2009 session and that will include a cigarette tax boost.