Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Under Attack

I spent my evening last night listening to Governor Bevin outline his budget plan on a WFPL live stream from a hotel room in Gainesville, GA. He made a lot of positive remarks, laid out some successes that Kentucky has seen recently, expressed optimism for the future and made it clear we are in difficult times.

I think we need to look deeper into some of what he had to say because on the surface it was misleading. Here are just a few of the proposals in HB200 that was introduced last night after he spoke. You can see HB200 for yourself here

Hearing that he plans to leave the basic SEEK funding formula intact sounds like a win for education but it is in reality just a soundbite that many will hear and not look deeper. First of all, to leave the SEEK funding formula untouched amounts to what is essentially a cut as inflation affects the spending power of SEEK dollars.

Secondly, SEEK funding includes dollars for transportation that he proposes to cut deeply. Transportation funding for school districts is a mandate that is tended to be fully funded by the state and is currently only about 60% funded by the state. His proposal would cut another $128M which would be one of the largest single education funding cuts ever in Kentucky.

Thirdly, on top of increased contributions to CERS (County Employee Retirement System) to the tune of half a million dollars that Shelby County Schools will have to pay out of reserves this year, Bevin's proposal would cut state funding for district employee health insurance. The shortfall would have to be made up from district reserves as well.

If that isn't enough, one of the 70 programs Bevin proposes cutting is funding for textbooks in public schools.

All of these cuts add up to large portions of funding that districts will suddenly be responsible for. The legislature has given local boards of education the means to raise funds for their respective districts but a sudden shortfall of millions to any district in one year will be crippling and reserve funds can be drained in just a couple of years unless services are slashed. It's important to know that the legislature mandates school districts maintain a reserve fund of no less than 2% of their general fund to absorb fluctuation in expenses and state funding. The Kentucky Department of Educations recommends keeping no less than 5%.

The reserve or contingency is an emergency fund that is necessary in the case of costly building repairs, covering unplanned expenses like the additional contribution to CERS that was mandated after the district budget process, and in the worst cases paying salaries and day to day operating expenses when the state adjusts funding down towards the end of the school year. Shelby County Public Schools has been fortunate to have such good stewards in the past that allowed our contingency to reach nearly 10% but even that large of a fund would only keep the doors open for about 2 months if state funding dried up.

Districts in Kansas saw schools closing mid-year after massive tax cuts and program cuts from the state. After they exhausted their reserve funds, there was nothing left to do when salaries couldn't be met.

Furthermore, there were attacks on districts and their spending on administration. SCPS spends about 8% of its budget on administration. Administration can broadly be described as central office staff, counselors, librarians, principals, etc. Specifically, JCPS was attacked for having 600 (its actually less than that) administrative salaries over $100K. JCPS spends closer to 10% on admin but I would make another point. In the corporate world, top leaders and administrators are paid top dollar to keep their talent in the company. Teachers have a masters degree and are paid woefully inadequate wages compared to what a masters degree is worth in the corporate world. Administrators have masters degrees and even doctorate degrees in many instances plus decades of experience. Why is top talent not worth the salaries they are paid in the public sector? We have a severe teacher shortage do we keep talented educators in districts if we cannot compare to salaries in other districts or industries?

How many corporations have received tax breaks to come to Kentucky? How many of those corporations are criticized for their salaries? What about Answers in Genesis that gets $18M in tax breaks and is bankrupting the town of Williamstown? How many dollars are we giving to a ministry and a tourist attraction and what are their executives paid?

The cuts in state K-12 funding are a way to shift the burden from the legislature to local districts for providing education for our children. The SEEK formula was designed to spread funding for students fairly across all districts with things like property values and student population taken into account. That formula only works if the state continues to fund education in other ways. If the state can't fund programs then local districts must slash services or raise revenues. I can't say more funding for our children will solve all of the problems in education but I can damn well promise cutting that funding won't.

This bill would lay at the hands of local boards of education the tough task of slashing services to students or raising revenues while the legislature gets away without having to increase taxes in an election year. Don't be fooled. The Governor is using your child and my child as a soundbite. He will cut funding but not really because school districts will have to make the tough choices.

How can we give teachers the raises that they so desperately deserve if funds are diminished? How will they develop their skills when the state cuts funding for professional development as proposed in HB200? How can we make an already understaffed pool of bus drivers more efficient and pay them a competitive wage if funds are cut? How can wee keep classroom sizes and student to teacher ratios effective if we don't at least maintain funding? How much more are you willing to pay in property taxes to make up for what the state isn't willing to fund?

I'll leave you with one thought. The Kentucky Constitution lays out only one funding mandate for the legislature and that is to fund a system of common schools....public schools.

Section 183. General Assembly to provide for
school system. The General Assembly shall, by
appropriate legislation, provide for an efficient system
of common schools throughout the State.
Text as ratified on: August 3, 1891, and revised September 28,

If you want to read more about the governor's proposals I suggest looking at the analysis from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy here

I feel passionately about this issue because I want the very best for my daughters. One will graduate this year and one is in 5th grade. I feel passionately about this issue because your child's access to the best education is no more or less important than my child's access. Perhaps I'm wrong but I have yet to hear the argument that will convince me shortchanging students is best for them. My election to the board this fall is secondary to my concern for what our children stand to lose. 

The legislature has a duty to find revenue first. Call your legislators and let them know how you feel about HB200. Email, call, find more info here

No comments:

Post a Comment

Civics, Schools, Church and State

There is a border crisis in America. The barriers along this border are sparse and crumbling and each time this border is crossed our identi...