Kentucky schools face funding cuts despite being priority in Gov. Bevin’s budget

Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt, at the State of Education Press Conference in Frankfort Thursday January 21, 2016.
Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt, at the State of Education Press Conference in Frankfort Thursday January 21, 2016. Kentucky Department of Education

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt says that if Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget is approved by the General Assembly, the Department of Education will face $72 million in reductions over the next two years.

“We all have a right and cause to be nervous about the proposed budget,” Pruitt wrote in his weekly blog Friday. “However, do not give in to despair quite yet. The legislative process is long and there will be time after that to evaluate what actually needs to be done.”

Pruitt said the department’s priority will be to minimize reductions in money going to local school districts.

The governor said in his budget address last week that proposed budget cuts are meant to provide resources to shore up the underfunded state and teacher pension systems, Pruitt said.

Bevin said the state’s main funding formula for K-12 education would get an increase of $39 million to help schools deal with projected enrollment increases.

The governor’s budget office and the education department reached a consensus on projected enrollment, so the funding formula pool would go from $3.009 billion currently to almost $3.035 billion in fiscal year 2017 and $3.024 billion the following year, according to the Kentucky School Boards Association News Service.

But Pruitt said that would still leave districts short.

“...Even keeping the per pupil rate the same, while appreciated, will still leave districts short of the money they need as costs of items continue to increase,” Pruitt said in his blog.

A Kentucky School Boards Association report said last week that under Bevin’s proposed budget, student transportation would not get the increase that was a major priority for the state board of education. Funding would remain at just under $214.8 million in each year of the budget, which has been estimated at roughly 60 percent of the cost.

In addition, Bevin’s proposal calls for $4 million less each year of the biennium for preschool services.

The Kentucky Department of Education had asked for an additional $73 million per year of the biennium. Half of Kentucky’s children entering kindergarten don’t have the necessary academic skills.

During his campaign for governor, Bevin questioned the state’s participation in federal preschool programs, citing a federal study showing the benefits were inconsequential once a child got beyond third grade, according to the Associated Press.

Cory Curl, associate executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said last week that the Prichard Committee is encouraged by Bevin’s commitment to maintaining equitable funding for K-12 education through the SEEK formula and to targeting much-needed funding for the teacher retirement system.

But Curl expressed concern that preschool programs were not exempted from the budget cuts.

“It is critical for the commonwealth to make investments in high-quality early learning opportunities a priority, “ Curl said.

Other cuts for K-12 that Bevin proposed last week include $2 million less each year for family resource and youth services centers, $2 million less each year for programs that include safe schools and professional development, and $1 million less for career and technical education – another area where the state board of education has sought a major funding increase.

There would also be $1 million less for after-school programs, about $750,000 less each year for textbooks, $500,000 less for teacher training, and $300,000 less for programs for gifted and talented students, according to the school boards association’s report..

In terms of cuts “this is probably the most severe across-the-board proposal for K-12 that I can recall,” said Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association.

Pruitt said that like other state agencies, the Kentucky Department of Education is required to cut 4.5 percent or about $17.9 million from its current year spending before June 30.

“Since we are more than half way through the fiscal year, this is going to be difficult, at best,” he said. “We have long had the priority of trying to absorb as many of the reductions as possible so more money can go to classrooms to support actual teaching and learning. This will continue to be the priority.”

Bevin said in an interview on KET Friday that he was giving agencies leeway on the timing of the cuts.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears