By Tracy Goff-Herman
Most of us kick off the New Year with a list of resolutions. Many of us resolve to save money, eat right and exercise more – perennial favorites on resolution lists. The Kentucky General Assembly also has a list of returning issues that will once again feature prominently in the upcoming 2014 Regular Session. The state budget, pension shortfalls, gambling, and charter schools are all back on the table.
For the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) and the Department of Education (KDE), the focus in the upcoming long session is on the budget. The Consensus Forecast Group, the official body charged with producing revenue projections for the upcoming biennium, hasn’t met to finalize budget numbers yet. But the discussions around the budget do not look hopeful, with the state Budget Director Jane Driskell even suggesting the General Assembly may need to make cuts to balance the budget and stay within revenues.
Even if there is additional money available, it is already designated to go to the state pension system, which is short. There also are plenty of other budget items that need additional funding – such as the health insurance and its ever increasing costs.
At its December 2013 meeting, KBE adopted a resolution in which it encouraged the General Assembly and Gov. Steve Beshear to consider the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform and consider allowing voters to decide the expanded gaming issue as a way to enhance the state’s revenue.
KDE’s budget priorities include the following:
SEEK Base Funding
The primary funding source for elementary and secondary education is the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) Program. The formula sets a base per pupil funding. The current budget provides a current SEEK base per pupil guarantee at $3,827. KDE’s budget request asks that the SEEK guarantee to be restored to Fiscal Year 2009 (FY 09) base funding levels of $3,866.
Flexible Focus Grants
Part of KDE’s budget request is to restore Professional Development, Safe Schools, Extended School Services, Textbooks and Preschool to FY 08 Levels. This request will provide each school district with both the funding and the flexibility to target areas of greatest need. For example, the increase in professional development funding could be targeted toward critical support for the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System for teachers and leaders across the commonwealth.
An increase in current bandwidth capacity is necessary to enhance the learning experience of all students by connecting them to rich instructional tools and content available on-line and across the Kentucky Education Network (KEN). It also provides teachers and administrators access to information and tools to be effective teachers, leaders, and decision makers. This includes the Kentucky Education Network (KEN), Kentucky Education Technology System (KETS), and Instructional Device Replacement through a $50 million bond issuance.
College and Career Readiness
There are more than 30 empty classrooms/labs across the state in area technology centers because of a lack of funding to hire enough Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers. This request will allow for CTE to hire approximately 35 teachers in programs aligned to Kentucky’s high-demand, industry sectors.
Kentucky Occupational Skill Standards Assessments (KOSSA)
Under the new accountability model, school districts must move 50 percent of high school graduates who are not college- and/or career-ready to college- and/or career-ready by 2015. KOSSA are used to measure technical skill attainment (career readiness) upon completion of a technical program and will assist with this effort.
Local Area Vocational Education Centers
Several districts have added new local area vocational centers and programs and are requesting state funding to help support these initiatives under 702 KAR 2:140. These initiatives will help to provide students with more career preparation programs and improve career readiness.
These assessments measure a student’s ability to achieve a Silver, Gold, or Platinum National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC). Students holding the NCRC will also assist Kentucky counties that are pursuing the status of Work Ready Communities, which is an initiative to bring businesses to the commonwealth.
KDE’s budget request also includes Capital projects for the fiscal biennium focusing on the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) and the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB). KSD At KSD, funding is requested for an addition to Kerr Hall and updating the HVAC system. At KSD, money is requested to renovate and update Howser Hall and to do Masonry repairs at the Richie Building.
District Turnaround Support
Education Recovery Staff will assist schools and districts in need of school improvement and turnaround, especially in persistently low-achieving schools.
Finance Officer Legislation
School finance officers are the financial leaders in school districts and are responsible, along with the superintendent, school councils and local board members, for maintaining a sound financial standing for districts. KDE is working with the Kentucky Association of School Business Officials (KASBO) on proposing statutory changes in the upcoming session to allow for minimum qualification/certification requirements for finance officers.
Tracy Goff-Herman is the Kentucky Department of Education’s legislative liaison to the Kentucky General Assembly.