Politics & Government

Bevin’s budget spares K-12 schools, cuts higher education

The University of Kentucky campus.
The University of Kentucky campus. File photo.

Gov. Matt Bevin excluded K-12 schools from funding cuts in an austere state budget proposal that would slash funding to Kentucky’s public universities.

The main funding formula for K-12 would get a slight bump of $39 million to help schools deal with projected enrollment increases. There would be no mandated raises for teachers, but Bevin said school systems were welcome to use the additional money for raises if they wished.

Universities, however, would join numerous other state agencies in getting a 4.5 percent spending cut for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. After that, 9 percent would be cut over the following two years.

After fiscal year 2018, Bevin said he would alter how universities are funded to reshape the state’s higher education system into one that promotes workforce development above all else. Performance-based funding, in which universities are funded based on how well they perform under certain criteria, would be used to determine all of higher education funding, Bevin said. Some lawmakers have pushed that idea for several years, but Bevin said the proposed criteria developed by the Council on Postsecondary Education in recent months were “flawed.”

“I want funding that incentivizes outcomes that are specific to the things people want,” Bevin said during an afternoon briefing for reporters. “There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors, there just will. All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so, they’re just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayers like engineers will be, for example.”

To that end, Bevin has proposed a $100 million bond for public-private construction projects that improve workforce development. He cited as a possible model The Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME), a partnership of regional manufacturers that work with high schools and the community college system to produce certified workers.

Bevin said the proposed fund would help offset his recommended cuts to the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, which operates most of the state’s workforce programs.

I want funding that incentivizes outcomes that are specific to the things people want,” Bevin said during an afternoon briefing for reporters. There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors, there just will. All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so, they’re just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayers like engineers will be, for example.

Gov. Matt Bevin

“We are going to be a state that makes things,” Bevin said. “We are better positioned than anybody to do that: we’ve got the logistics, we’ve got the location, we’ve got the meteorological advantages ... the way in which we are not going to get there is if we don’t educate young people to make things.”

Jay Box, president of KCTCS, said the proposed budget would almost certainly mean tuition increases, especially since KCTCS did not raise tuition this year.

“I don’t see how we can keep from having a tuition increase,” Box said after Bevin’s speech Tuesday night. “We’ve already made major cuts.”

Box said he was intrigued by the $100 million workforce fund, but “I think the devil is in the details.”

However, Bevin proposed one avenue for more student aid. For the first time in years, 100 percent of Kentucky Lottery proceeds would go to the scholarships they’re intended for, instead of being diverted by state lawmakers to shore up the budget.

Last year, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, the Kentucky Lottery provided $221 million. Under state law, 55 percent of that money is supposed to go to need-based college aid. Instead, lawmakers took $28 million and diverted it to the General Fund. That year, 62,000 eligible students were denied scholarships because the funds ran dry, the center estimated.

“I’m elated that the governor has restored that money,” said Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington. “I’m glad that ship has been righted.”

Simpson, who is chairman of the budget subcommittee on postsecondary education, said he wasn’t surprised by the cuts to state universities.

“We have a responsibility as a government,” he said, referring to Kentucky’s swelling pension deficits. “We have to honor the contracts we’ve made.”

Officials at the University of Kentucky and the Council on Postsecondary Education declined to comment Tuesday night.

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