...The governor's worst-case scenario for 2008-09 would undo much of the recent improvement.
Leaving aside health benefits, planned state funding was $471 million higher for 2007-08 than it had been two years earlier, but the proposed cuts could undo $290 million of that growth in 2008-09. If inflation stays high into next year, the rest of any real increase could disappear.
Local funding growth may be able to offset a fraction of the state cuts. In past years, while added state dollars have gone heavily to benefits, district growth has been able to fund some positive developments.
For example, all-day kindergarten has become common, and average class sizes have dropped from 26 to 23, and down to 20 for kindergarten through third grade. School districts have added around 4,600 additional certified employees in the last decade, staffing the kindergarten and class size changes along with other efforts that include expanded preschools, new alternative schools, and intensive reading interventions.However, districts may find it harder to raise their contributions in coming years.
The tax legislation known as House Bill 44 limits districts to annual increases of 4 percent in revenue on their "existing" tax base. That allowed real growth in years when inflation was below 4 percent, but the recent higher inflation could make them unable to keep up with growing costs. That 4 percent limit does not apply to "new" property — such as farmland converted to residential neighborhoods — so growth zones like Fayette and Jessamine counties may still be able to outpace inflation, but an economic slowdown could also hurt there.Nor is federal funding likely to relieve those difficulties: those dollars are a small portion of Kentucky's total education spending, and there's little momentum in Washington for a big increase.How will declining funding affect our schools?
Since more than 80 percent of district spending goes to payroll, a cut anything like the governor's worst-case scenario will likely require staff reductions and increased class sizes. Salary schedules will probably not keep up with the cost of living, so most educators who keep their jobs will see their buying power decline. As in any workplace, those changes can damage morale, and even professionals as dedicated as Kentucky educators may find it hard to bring their fullest energy to classrooms for a while.
State funding for specific programs may decline for things like textbooks, school technology, after-school tutoring and staff professional growth. Some districts may have to return to half-day kindergarten and reduce funding to schools for supplies and other needs. Valuable extracurricular programs or some course offerings that exceed state requirements — such as foreign languages and most math classes beyond Algebra II— may no longer be possible.
The losses will surely affect Kentucky's future. Younger students who receive weaker preschool and have larger primary classes may have a tougher time throughout their school years and on into adulthood. Older students may enter college or the workforce weakened by the losses to their middle and high schools.
Schools with the lowest scores and slowest improvement have been identified as a top priority for state intervention. It may be especially difficult to give those schools the added help they need to catch up and meet state goals for 2014.
State cuts could also have an immediate impact on how Kentucky is perceived nationally. Our historic education failings are well known, but our reform work has given us a credible claim to be a state that is moving steadily forward. These funding losses could change that. For national corporations, that could immediately make Kentucky a less appealing location...
Monday, January 28, 2008
Steve Clements and Susan Weston have an article in last week's Business Lexington: