Lexington teacher, former superintendent urge lawmakers to restore education funding

Stu Silberman is executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
Stu Silberman is executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

FRANKFORT — Lafayette High School teacher Ali Wright on Thursday showed state lawmakers a 13-year-old calculus book that her students have to use.

It was falling apart. The newest book she uses for one of her calculus classes is seven years old, the Lexington teacher told the men and women making budget decisions for public schools.

"I teach 26 students this year in AP Calculus 2, which is the highest math class that we offer to high school students," said Wright, who asked for funding to be restored to 2008 levels. "Believe it or not, all of the books that I use for this class are in this shape."

The books, Wright said, "are fine in terms of the content," but they are "literally falling apart."

"You have to have a book for that class. That class is not something, I don't think, that you could do online," she said. "At the beginning of the year, I actually have to tell my students that if Chapter 1 falls out, please do not lose it as we have no idea how many more years we will be using this book."

Wright said she no longer requires her students to carry the book back and forth to school "as I am afraid that they can't stand much more wear and tear."

"Even the top students, those who are not only college and career ready but who plan to attend Ivy League colleges, are affected by budget cuts," she said.

Stu Silberman took Wright to a meeting of the Interim Budget Review Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education. Silberman, the former Fayette School Superintendent, heads the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and represents the Kentucky Education Action Team or KEAT, a group seeking restoration of school funding. KEAT is made up of several state associations for parents, teachers or school officials.

Afterward, Silberman said their request to restore funding to 2008-2009 levels "in actual dollars" is a "reasonable request."

Education in Kentucky is "moving in the right direction," Silberman said. "But without the support that's needed we can't continue that. We're asking our legislators to be aware of that and to intervene and provide the support that is needed."

Hiren Desai, associate commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, said the department supports the three budget priorities that Silberman presented Thursday on behalf of KEAT.

The first addresses SEEK funding, the primary source of funding for school districts. SEEK accounts for about $2.9 billion a year, he said, and it is used for everything from instruction in classroom to school bus maintenance.

The total amount of SEEK funds has remained flat, but the number of students and the attendance has increased. That means the amount of funding per student has gone down from $3,866 per student in 2009 to $3,827 per student this year, Desai said. Silberman and state education officials are asking that those levels be restored.

Flexible focus funds — which include textbooks, preschool, extended school services, safe schools and staff professional development — also need to be restored to 2008 levels, officials said. Those funds dropped from $154 million in 2008 to $93 million this year, according to Desai.

Funding state technology is the third priority, because testing and much instruction is done online, Desai said. Education officials are asking for $5.8 million for increased Internet capability, $3.1 million in technology services, and additional funding for computers.

Textbooks, Silberman said, is one area in which per pupil spending has dropped.

In 2008, $21 per pupil was spent on textbooks. In 2009, that amount was $15. But Silberman said no money has been allotted for textbooks since 2010. That includes online textbooks, Desai said.

For now, districts still need hardback textbooks because content for some subjects is not available online, Desai said.

The subcommittee co-chair Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, who led Thursday's meeting, said afterward that she was concerned about the lack of textbook funding and the fact that teachers spend an estimated $2,000 to $3,000 out of their own pockets on their classrooms each year.

"The committee is going to take seriously the fact that teachers are paying out of pocket $2,000 to $3,000 a year to make sure kids have adequate supplies in the classrooms," she said. "The impact of inflation and the increase in students means that teachers are now providing supplies that we need to be providing. It's time to get that imbalance back in balance."

Wright, the Lafayette teacher, said students are the ones most affected by the budget cuts over the last five years.

She used as an example a student who she said was currently in her Algebra 2 class. Five years ago, he was a sixth- grader two years behind in math. He attended a middle school that was able to provide him with focused interventions during the school day and extended services after school, and he got home by a district-provided bus that allowed him to participate in after-school activities.

The student had a current math textbook that he was able to carry to and from school every day, which came in handy when he needed help at home. The school provided him with a state-of-the-art calculator for use at school and at home. He benefited from a small classroom and, free of charge, attended a summer program that allowed him to keep his skills fresh in addition to helping him advance. As a seventh-grader and eighth-grader, he flourished. And now, as a junior, he is on track to be college and career ready, Wright said.

But Wright said middle school looks "very different" these days. Last year in Fayette County, the number of intervention teachers went from 19 to 7, she said. A program called targeted assistance during the day is no longer offered to seventh- and eighth-graders, regardless of their achievement, she said.

Schools can no longer provide students who need extra help with activity buses, after-school and summer programs, 21st century technology, and textbooks, according to Wright.

Kentucky's graduation rate of 86 percent "is certainly something to celebrate," she said, but those students received services when they were in middle school.

"If nothing changes," she said, "what will our graduation rate look like in 2018?"

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