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Education Commissioner Makes Dire Predictions for Kentucky's Cash-Strapped Schools

This article originally appeared as special to KY Forward and is written by Brad Hughes

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday ramped up his recent dire predictions for the state’s cash-strapped public education system Sunday, forecasting another cut in state funding this fiscal year if the 2014 General Assembly doesn’t find new revenues.

Speaking at the opening session of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents Winter Conference in Louisville, Holliday warned that time is running out to educate legislators about the fiscal impact of lost federal stimulus and edujobs funds, federal sequestration cuts, the KSBIT insurance assessment and the steady reductions in state funding for school programs since 2008-09.

“If you don’t make an impact in the next six weeks, you will have less money in your budgets from the state than you have now,” Holliday said, building on his comments at last week’s Kentucky Board of Education meeting on the potential for massive teacher pink slips this coming spring. “If you don’t do something in the next six weeks, I guarantee education will have budget cuts.”

One reason for Holliday’s concerns is new calculations that property valuations may rise 2 percent across the state. He said he’s hearing that means it will take only $8 million to get the SEEK fund back to the $3,866-per-student level in 2008-2009, instead of the $60 million sought in the KBE budget.

“We’re asking for $60 million to restore SEEK to the level the General Assembly committed to when they passed Senate Bill 1 (the 2009 school reform law),” he said. “When they passed Senate Bill 1, they said, ‘No new money,’ but I don’t recall them saying they would be taking any money away.”

And the commissioner had tough words for some legislators who he says are pushing back against the unified campaign by statewide K-12 organizations seeking restored funding.

“We’ve had some commitments. KERA was a commitment. Senate Bill 1 was a commitment. The General Assembly runs education in Kentucky, as the Rose case (the lawsuit that led to passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990) clearly said. And right now, we don’t have a General Assembly that has lived up to its commitments,” he said.

Holliday estimates that Kentucky has lost 1,800 teaching jobs over the past three years due to state and federal cuts, and another 1,300 teacher and classroom aide positions are threatened by the ongoing federal sequestration reductions. He urged superintendents to build on the attention gained from 128 local boards of education adopting resolutions calling on legislators to restore school funds.

Other speakers at Sunday’s KASS opening general session echoed Holliday’s remarks.

“The commissioner is exactly right when he says the legislature has not delivered on its promises of KERA and Senate Bill 1,” said Al Cross, the former political writer and columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal who is now director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. “You have a real job ahead of you if you hope to persuade the General Assembly to do anything for you involving taxes…unless you make them think they are going to pay a political price (by failing to act). You’ve got to play some politics. You’ve got to do more than have your school board pass a resolution.”

Dr. Blake Haselton, interim dean of the University of Louisville College of Education and Human Development, called the 2014 legislative session “a crossroads for us in several ways.

“You are the ones in your communities who will make the difference,” said Haselton, a former Oldham County Schools superintendent and KASS executive director. “That difference won’t come during the session; it will come from the relationships between you and your legislators.”

KASS President and Simpson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Flynn said increased school funding is “the top-shelf issue” for the education community.

“We need to lead but we also need to get the people with us. We need parents and staff to get engaged. The more legislators hear, the more impact we can make,” he said.

The KASS conference continues through Tuesday morning.

Brad Hughes is director of member support for the Kentucky School Boards Association and writes for the association’s eNews service. 

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