Listening to teachers, advocating for more school funding

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Education Commissioner Terry Holliday
Education Commissioner Terry Holliday

As I noted in my column last month, the 2013-14 school year is going to be a busy one with

many new and continuing initiatives. Since that column ran, two reports have been published that underscore our work in two areas – teachers (their training, professional learning and their working conditions) and state education funding.

I’d like to highlight some of the findings of each report.

The first report comes from the New Teacher Project (TNTP) and is a follow-up report to its October 2012 study, “The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools.” This year’s report, “Perspectives from Irreplaceable Teachers,” was compiled from a survey of celebrated teachers across the nation. The survey was completed by 117 of America’s best teachers, representing 36 states and all 10 of the nation’s largest school districts. The survey respondents were state and national award winners, National Board Certified Teachers, Milken Educator Award winners, Teach for America teachers, National Education Association (NES) members, and KIPP(Knowledge is Power Program) charter school teachers.

The summary findings were interesting.

1. When it comes to measuring success in the classroom, they want a wide array of factors. This is good news for Kentucky and other states that are developing teacher effectiveness systems that include multiple measures.

2. They attribute little of their success to formal preparation or professional development programs. This finding highlights the need for teacher preparation reform and shift from professional development to differentiated professional learning. Both of these issues are being addressed in Kentucky. Recent reports from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the new Commission on Accreditation of Educator Preparation standards will guide our work in Kentucky.

3. These teachers have a love/hate relationship with their profession. “Respondents cherish the opportunity to make a difference in their students’ lives, but they feel beaten down by many other aspects of the profession – low pay, excessive bureaucracy, poor working conditions and ineffective leaders, and colleagues.”

Policy makers and legislators would be wise to listen to the voice of teachers. In Kentucky we have numerous processes in place to listen to our teachers. More than 42,000 teachers respond our TELL Kentucky biennial working conditions survey in the spring of 2013. Our partners at the Prichard Committee, Kentucky Education Association and the Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky have launched several programs to provide a stronger voice to teachers in Kentucky.

Our success in helping more children reach college/career-ready status depends heavily on teachers. We should listen to teachers and then act on their recommendations. Hopefully, this report from TNTP will serve as a conversation starter in schools, districts, and state agencies across the nation and encourage more decision makers to listen to teachers

The need for more school funding

The second report is from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and comes by way of its legislative update. The update shows that base student funding (SEEK) in Kentucky has remained flat in recent years, but an increase in the number of students has effectively cut per pupil spending. Basic grants (Flexible Focus Funds) that are used to implement Senate Bill 1 (2009) have been reduced by more than $61 million per year.

The Kentucky Board of Education is currently reviewing priorities for FY15-16 budget request. At a minimum KBE wants to see restoration of SEEK funding and Flexible Focus funding to 2008-09 levels. For SEEK, this would require an additional $60 million in FY15 and $90 million in FY16. This level of funding would only get us back to $3,866 per student which is woefully inadequate when compared to other states. To restore Flexible Focus Funds would require an additional $61 million in both FY15 and FY16. Flexible Focus Funds provide textbooks, digital resources for teaching/learning, extended school services, pre-school funding, and professional development to help educators implement Senate Bill 1 (2009).

Here is the big problem facing our legislators: there is no new money! Recently, the Consensus Forecasting Group, a non-partisan team of economists, predicted that FY15 state revenue would be fairly flat and indicated that with state obligations such as pensions and debt retirement, there is no new money for education.

Our schools have made remarkable progress in the last 25 years. More students are graduating from high school and reaching college- and career-readiness than at any point in our history. Our educators are taking money out of their own pockets to support children. Our parents are doing more fund raising to support basic needs in schools than ever before. However, this heroic effort by educators and parents cannot continue without a negative impact on morale. Teachers and parents will become extremely frustrated because they are being asked to fund items for students that should be provided through state and local funds.

The answer to this issue is NOT to pass on the reduced state funding costs to local property owners. Funding basic education needs through local property tax only exacerbates the inequities in education funding across 173 school districts. As commissioner I announced recently my strong support for state legislators to address two possible funding sources during the 2014 session. I strongly support efforts at tax reform and also strongly support expanded gaming. These are not popular issues and they are extremely difficult to deal with during an election year. However, my job is to alert decision makers that without adequate funding Kentucky educators will not be able to maintain current levels of student performance and certainly will not be able to continue improving student performance.

The upcoming session will be a make or break year for education in Kentucky. There are basically two choices – support restoration of funding for education so we can continue to make progress or don’t support restoration of funding. By not supporting restoration of funding, decision makers will be supporting the decline in outcomes for children that will have long term negative impacts on the futures of our children and the future of the Commonwealth.

 

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