Editorial: ‘Perfect storm’ for schools, lawmakers
Dec 17, 2013 | 2842 views | 0 0 comments | 343 343 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Along with mandate goes enabling. It’s ludicrous to demand something of someone without first making sure the resources, talents and capabilities required to meet the mandate have been provided.

That’s sort of what the state government has done to the Department of Education and the 173 school districts in the state.

The mission for the state’s public schools continues to be a daunting one. The funding to enable them to work toward their goals has been slashed.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, in remarks at the state board of education meeting Dec. 4, warned of dire consequences if the state general assembly does not restore education funding to previous levels, which Holliday said would require adding some $336 million to the education budget when the 2014-16 budget is constructed.

Holliday warned of as many as 2,000 layoffs of teachers and teacher assistants and bankruptcy for “10 to 12” school districts. We will, he said, “see pink slips like we’ve never seen before.”

Four days later, Holliday told the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents that it was incumbent on the superintendents “to make an impact in the next six weeks” by urging legislators to heed the warning.

Never mind restoring the budget to previous levels, Holliday said. He fears that legislators will, instead, make even more reductions in funding.

That would represent a continuation of what Holliday calls a failure by the state to live up to its promises to education.

“When they passed Senate Bill 1 [the school reform law of 2009], they said, ‘No new money,’” Holliday said. “But I don’t recall them saying they would take any money away.”

Instead, there have been cuts in the SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) program, funding programs for professional development activities for teachers and effects of the federal government’s sequestration.

Despite progress that can be substantiated, economic recovery is still very much a work in progress, and Holliday said he understands that budget cuts have affected all components of government.

However, he noted that several other states, including Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida, have increased funding for education during the time that Kentucky has been seeing drastic cuts.

“It’s worth asking,” Holliday said. “Did their general fund increase? Or did they cut other programs to put money into education?”

Holliday says the education department has requested “the bare basic” of restoration of funds to 2008 levels. That, he said, will involve a $150 million increase in 2015 and another $180 million for 2016 in the biennial state budget.

Two methods are available to legislators to increase state revenues, Holliday said – tax reform and expanded gaming, something that has been a priority for Gov. Steve Beshear throughout his tenure.

We’re not holding our breath in anticipation of tax reform, and we remember the bait-and-switch tactics of the “Kentucky Education Lottery,” which was generating revenue for 17 years before any substantial requirement for the revenue to be spent on anything related to education was placed into effect.

If nothing is done to restore funding, he said, the impact will be felt in the spring, when schools begin the work of assembling staff and faculty for the 2014-15 school year.

We don’t claim to have the answer to the monetary problems facing government at all levels. It’s up to legislators to determine priorities and allocate funding accordingly.

And for the public to voice approval, or disapproval, at the ballot box.
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