State

From textbooks to tenure. What the budget means for Kentucky schools, universities.

Teachers march on the Capitol. ‘We’re here for our kids’

Thousands of Kentucky teachers stormed the state Capitol April 2 to protest pension benefit cuts, oppose charter schools and advocate for better education funding.
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Thousands of Kentucky teachers stormed the state Capitol April 2 to protest pension benefit cuts, oppose charter schools and advocate for better education funding.

As thousands of teachers marched at the Capitol on Monday to protest pension changes, lawmakers released a budget compromise that sent some mixed news to the schools they represent.

It’s been a ping-pong game of cuts made and restored between the budgets proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin, the House and the Senate. In the end, though, legislators decided to restore a big transportation cut to schools and add a little more money to the state funding formula known as SEEK.

For example, Bevin’s proposal cut about $138 million from school transportation funds. The final budget will give them about $127 million in each fiscal year. Per-pupil funding under SEEK will rise from about $3,700 to $4000 per year.

Many public school teachers will also be pleased by Rep. Steve Rudy’s announcement on Monday that there will be no funding for charter schools in this biennium, although several districts are still going ahead with the formation of those alternative models. It’s just not yet clear how the funding will work.

Funding was restored for family resource centers, although they have not yet recovered from years of previous cuts. In addition, lawmakers reversed cuts for programs such as literacy development and Teach for America, along with $200,000 for the Lexington Hearing and Speech Center and $6.4 million for the Safe Schools Program.

On the other hand, there’s no state funding for textbooks, the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund and numerous teacher training programs.

Drone video shows Kentucky teachers and their supporters gathered at the Capitol in Frankfort Monday, April, 2, to protest pension changes and support education spending.

On the higher education side, public universities will still see a 6.25 percent cut over the next two years, although Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said that will be somewhat offset by an increase of $31 million into the funding formula that now uses performance measures, such as graduation rates, to determine how much money a school gets.

Robert King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, said the 6.25 percent cut is a $55 million loss to the system overall. So the actual cut will end up being about $24 million.

“It’s still a cut, but it’s a better result than we expected overall,” King said.

Lawmakers did not restore a $500 million bond pool for fixing up old university buildings, estimated at $7 billion statewide.

There was also mixed news for a host of programs initially cut in Bevin’s budget. For example, lawmakers found $1 million in one year for the University of Kentucky’s Robinson Scholars program and about $700,000 for the school’s mining engineering program. But there was no funding for the University Press of Kentucky, a publishing house based at UK that serves all the schools in the state.

UK will also get $1 million over two years for an ovarian cancer screening program and will split $13.6 million over two years with the University of Louisville for cancer research.

Morehead State University got $2.8 million each year for the Craft Academy, a gifted student center started by Republican donor and coal magnate Joe Craft, but did not receive $200,000 for the Kentucky Folk Art Center.

Western Kentucky University was restored $750,000 each year of the biennium for its Mesonet Center, used by meteorologists all around the state.

And university faculty will be disappointed by language in the budget inserted by McDaniel that allows governing boards to fire tenured faculty when programs are modified or eliminated due to financial problems. Some faculty have called for similar walkout as teachers, but nothing has happened as of yet.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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