BudgetBy Matthew Tungate

Despite increased per-pupil and education-reform funding, Kentucky’s new budget likely leaves teachers with fewer healthcare options, no new textbooks and possibly less salary, the State Board of Education heard at its June meeting.

The state General Assembly passed a $17.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2012 that had to address a nearly $1.5 billion shortfall with no new taxes or significant revenues.

Many education programs will see a 3.5 percent cut in 2011 from their already reduced fiscal year 2010 levels and by 4.5 percent in 2012, according to Hiren Desai, associate commissioner of the Office of Internal Administration and Support. The operating budget for the Kentucky Department of Education, a resource to teachers and school districts, was reduced by 4.2 percent in 2011 and 7.6 percent in 2012, Desai said.

“I’m still positive about that because it would have been worse if we didn’t have a budget,” he said.

The budget also cuts textbook funding from $21 million to $600,000 in 2011 and $640,000 in 2012.

“Roughly a dollar per pupil,” Deputy Commissioner Ruth Webb said.

Board member Dorie Combs replied, “You can’t even get a spiral binder for that.”

The budget also underfunds bonuses for teachers who achieve National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification. The Department of Education usually reimburses the legally-required $2,000 districts pay National Board certified teachers, Desai said.

However, the department estimates the cost at $3.6 million in 2011 and $4 million in 2012, respectively, but the budget only funds $2.75 million each year. Districts will likely have to pay the difference, Desai said.

Webb added that the budget does not fund the statewide student information system or longitudinal data system, both of which need to be continued, and does not provide any money for the Highly Skilled Educator program in 2012.

And the financial woes may get worse, she said. The budget requires the Executive Branch to reduce costs and expenditures by $300 million for the biennium.

Desai said he expects additional budget reductions in education.

“The problem is $300 million is a lot to come up with in efficiencies and reductions, given that we’ve already faced several such reductions in this fiscal year,” he said.

Joe Meyer, Education and Workforce Development Cabinet secretary, said Congress may not fund $238 million that the budget allots for Medicaid.

“The budget environment continues to be very shaky, and we will continue to have to grapple with it, and it will be the focus of our attention and efforts for the near future,” he said. “Other than that, everything’s great.”

It may not be so great for teachers even without further reductions.

The General Assembly mandated a basic health plan for employees and teachers in the budget, with the state health policy board allowed to develop additional plans, Desai said. However, Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed that minimum plan, so the health policy board will determine any plans offered, Desai said.

“We do anticipate that they will have to tighten up on the benefits under the health insurance plan simply because the legislature counted on $94 million in efficiencies from reductions in health insurance costs, and those costs have to come from somewhere,” he said.

The budget also requires the equivalent of 177 six-hour instructional days in each fiscal year, but the state will only fund 176. Districts will have to pay salaries and benefits for the other school day.

“The districts can put into their calendars the number of days that they choose as long as they have 1,062 instructional hours,” Webb said.

Holliday said Beshear’s intention was to maintain instruction time.

“I have pushed hard to keep 177 days and pushed hard to keep the 1,062 instructional hours,” Holliday said.

The department will have to approve any calendar with less than 170 days, he said.

Because of the cuts, numerous districts have gone from 187 paid days to 185 for teachers, which is a 1 percent decrease in pay, Holliday said.

“I have not made myself a friend of every superintendent in the commonwealth because I pushed to maintain instruction and pushed to maintain teacher contract days,” he said. “If you hear from superintendents that KDE is not supporting them, I am not supporting them in their decision to cut teacher contracts, but I have no way to overrule their decision to cut teacher contracts.”

But teachers may not be the only ones facing a reduction in paid days.

The budget gives Beshear the right to furlough state employees, including those at the Department of Education, for up to 24 hours over six months.

“That is looming,” Desai said. “We do expect to come back to you with more bad news this year.”

There was some good news in the budget, he said.

Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding increased from $3,866 per student this year to $3,868 in 2011 and $3,903 in 2012, Desai said.

The budget also included $8 million for new assessments and professional development related to education reforms outlined in Senate Bill 1, and $2.5 million for a review of primary and secondary buildings classifications.

“It’s good news on paper, but it may just be an opportunity for further cuts,” Desai said.

For as bad as the budget is, Holliday said it could be worse.

“I think our superintendents and school boards need to take the outlook that Kentucky has fared fairly well,” he said. “Our overall budget reduction of 4 and 3 percent are nowhere near what some other states have done.”

In other actions, the board:

  • revised the intervention system for persistently low-performing schools to allow school councils to serve in an advisory capacity and adjusts appeals deadlines, among other changes
  • approved Common Core Standards for mathematics because of significant changes to the draft the board approved in February
  • upheld Holliday’s decision to transfer the authority of the Frost Middle School (Jefferson County) decision-making council to the district’s superintendent
  • approved district facility plans for Nelson County and Ashland Independent and an amendment for Henderson County
  • approved the designation of Rogers Hall at the Kentucky School for the Deaf as surplus property
  • approved a KHSAA-implemented alternative training course for coaches