Gov. Steve Beshear proposed a two-year state budget Tuesday that restores many of the spending cuts to K-12 education in the past six years, starting at preschool and going through the upper grades.
His proposal would expand preschool to 5,125 more children, using $36 million over two years to expand eligibility for 4-year-olds whose families are within 160 percent of the federal poverty level.
The state's main school funding formula, known as SEEK, would go up by $189 million over the next two years, the bulk of which would be spent on long-awaited raises for teachers and other school employees of 2 percent in 2015 and 1 percent in 2016.
Another $95 million would be spent in the biennium to restore funding for a variety of other education programs, such as textbooks, teacher training, after-school services and school safety. Funding for hoth textbooks and teacher training had been virtually eliminated, and school safety funding was cut by 60 percent, Beshear said.
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In total, those programs had been cut by nearly $61 million a year. Beshear would restore $47 million of that amount.
"It is time to reinvest in our education system in spite of having very few resources," Beshear said.
He praised educators for having raised Kentucky's national rankings despite budget cuts.
"It's time to reinvest with them so we can keep that momentum going," he said.
Educators and advocates, who have been pushing hard this summer and fall for renewed funding, were happy with the proposal.
"We're elated," said Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. "It's such a positive sign for education and for the children of Kentucky."
Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association, the state's largest teacher union, said she would be working to persuade legislators to keep the governor's proposed numbers in the final budget, or even add more money.
"Public school employees view the governor's budget proposal as a huge step in the right direction for Kentucky's students," she said. "Without these necessary funding strategies our schools stand to lose everything they have gained in the last five years."
Beshear's budget also would include $50 million in bonds to replace school technology, and $100 million for school construction.
Fayette County Superintendent Tom Shelton said he was thrilled with money for textbooks and teacher training, and "I'm always excited about money for preschool education."
"We're still underfunded, but this keeps us from going further backwards," Shelton said.
The budget would make some specific changes to high school programming, including $2 million to improve access to Advanced Placement classes, $2 million to add additional students at the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science at Western Kentucky University, and more than $1 million to add 100 new students each at the Governor's School for the Arts and the Governor's Scholars Program.
Holliday said Tuesday night that his only regret was that K-12's gains came at the expense of other state agencies, and that he will "push hard" with legislators to find other sources of funding, such as what might be produced with tax reform or expanded gambling.
"It is critical lawmakers explore expanded gaming as well as tax reform," Holliday said. "Otherwise, with a finite number of dollars to go around, the result will mean curtailed services to the citizens of our state."