Kentucky is in the bottom three states for cuts to K-12 education funding since 2008, according to a report released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The report shows Kentucky is one of the states that has cut general funding for K-12 education most deeply. From fiscal years 2008-2018, Kentucky spent 15.8 percent less in state formula funding per student, which is the primary form of state K-12 funding and other related expenses such as bus transportation, contributions to school employees, and pension plans, said Michael Leachman, who wrote the report for the Washington, D.C.-based group.
Only Oklahoma and Texas rank worse than Kentucky, said Kenny Colston, communications director for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. “Kentucky is one of seven states that cut core funding as recently as this past fiscal year. Only Mississippi and West Virginia cut more in the latest fiscal year,” he said.
“States must invest in their schools, so that children can receive the education they need to succeed in life,” said Colston. “With looming pension obligations, this report is once again evidence of the need to clean up the tax code of special interest loopholes to help Kentucky reinvest in our state’s schools, among other needs.”
The erosion in support for K-12 education has damaging economic consequences for the state -- both now and in the future, according to Colston. He said the cuts can undermine proven education reforms such as reducing class sizes, improving teacher quality, increasing learning time and expanding early childhood education.
“The state cuts have meant more pressure on Kentucky’s local school districts. Poorer districts, especially those in the struggling coal fields, simply cannot compensate for the lost revenue. Many districts are having to make difficult budget decisions about reducing or eliminating staff, student supports, courses, and art and music programs. In addition, many are unable to give staff raises or meet facility needs,” Colston said .
Elliott County Schools Superintendent Debbie Stephens said the cuts have affected student/teacher ratios.
“We have been unable to maintain the number of staff that enables us to keep our student/teacher ratio numbers as low as we would like,” Stephens said. “We are also unable to provide up-to-date instructional resources, especially textbooks, for many of our classrooms.”
“This report underscores the fact that education in the state of Kentucky is woefully underfunded,” Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk said. “That does not reflect the core values of our Commonwealth, and we owe it to our children to do better. The findings are especially timely in light of the current educational landscape in which schools already reeling from consecutive years of funding cuts that have not been restored now face mid-year budget reductions, uncertain fiscal obligations from pension reform, and the implementation of a new educational model on top of a system that is inadequately funded.
“On the eve of a possible special session and a regular session beginning January 2, I have faith in our elected officials to tackle tax reform and the pension crisis in a comprehensive way that puts funding for Kentucky education back on track. We are committed to working closely with our delegation in the House and Senate, as well as other elected officials, state agency leaders, education advocacy groups, and educators to find workable solutions that put students first,” Caulk said.